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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

A Biblical response to anxiety.

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


David Attenborough’s calm British accent clashed with the images flashing across the screen. A blur of feathers, beaks, and wings crashing against each other on the surface of the Southern Sea. Here food is scarce so albatross and giant petrels, solitary birds with massive wingspans, fight over the flesh of a dead sea lion. Attenborough narrates, “a rare opportunity.” Amid a cacophony of noises, screeching and shrieking, bits of the sea lion flesh are ripped from the carcass until there is nothing left. I sat transfixed by the chaos of the scene and wondered to myself how I might feel as one of these enormous birds. It did not take long before I realized, I would be anxious.

Anxiety is born of scarcity. Like the birds on the sea their frantic efforts were not a function of hunger alone, but by their hunger combined with the limited nature of food in this environment. So too our own anxieties are born, not just out of a need, but by a need with limited resources through which to meet them. This is what makes Jesus command to not be anxious so initially confusing. Either he is denying that we have the need, or he knows about a supply of resources we do not, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on...” (Matthew 6:25). Our need is acknowledged and affirmed by our savior, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (v.32). Yet, the resources to meet the need remain scarce. If our need has not changed, there must be something Jesus knows about the supply of resources that we do not. This would be the only logical conclusion for a command to “not be anxious”.

Our own anxieties are born, not just out of a need, but by a need with limited resources through which to meet them.

From the moment of Jesus' first miracle, he was combatting the concept of scarcity. At a wedding feast, he is approached by his mother with a concern, they are out of wine. Jesus instructs for water to fill six stone jars and turns around 120-180 gallons into the finest wine (John 2:1-11). He instructs a tired fisherman who made no catch to cast out his nets, nearly capsizing their boat with fish (Luke 5:5). Later in the Sermon on the Mount, he feeds 5,000 people with a boy’s lunch (Matthew 14:13-21). When taxes are due he produces the money from a fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:27). He tells a woman at a well about water that she can drink and never be thirsty again (John 4). Jesus, in his ministry and miracles, is proclaiming the scarcity of earth is no match for the storehouses of heaven.

Jesus, in his ministry and miracles, is proclaiming the scarcity of earth is no match for the storehouses of heaven.

In our own lives we face a number of anxiety-producing scarcities. Fear of not finding a spouse “until all the good ones are gone” of getting a bad grade so that “the good universities will reject me” of losing loved ones “until we are alone” of not having enough money or lose our job so we will not be able to buy what we need. We think that more money, more influence, more of any temporary security will take away the scarcity. Like the albatross and giant petrels, we clamor, shoving others out of our way to tear one small piece from the carcass of earth’s limited supply. Yet we have a savior who sees our frantic efforts and with love in his heart, whispers peace to our restless soul. He asks us to see Him as enough. As C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, "He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only."

We have a savior who sees our frantic efforts and with love in his heart, whispers peace to our restless soul.

So in our anxiety, what is the right response? Jesus instructs us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v33). In times of anxiety we are asked to look to heaven, seek after Him, and “with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Not because he doesn’t know what we need, but because a right orientation of our heart toward the one who controls it all quiets our soul and gives us peace. This is not a formula by which we profit, as some who preach prosperity gospel claim, but by which we receive what is necessary to do our work, for His kingdom, for a short time, until we are welcomed home to “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). Where scarcity is no more and, “neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

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