LEADING OTHERS TO CONFIDENCE IN GOD
Recently, I heard someone say, “There is an epidemic of mental health issues on the back side of the pandemic.” This epidemic has negative effects on every level of our society, our communities, our workplaces, our churches, and our homes. This means most of us are touched by this mental health epidemic.
And you have probably heard it. I have. People sharing about family members who are taking medication for anxiety and/or depression. Others tell about trips to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack only to learn their spouse was having an anxiety attack. Praying with grandparents concerned about grandchildren who have been diagnosed with some mental issue as the child’s parents consider the best next step. It is all around us.
Currently, a diagnosis of anxiety seems to lead to all the other mental issues. “27.3% of Americans ages 18 and over have symptoms of an anxiety disorder. 41.7% of young adults, (18 to 29 years) suffer from anxiety.” This means almost 3 out of 10 people you interact with experience symptoms of anxiety. At some point, you will lead, or disciple, someone experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
The American Psychological Association says that anxiety is not the same as fear. Yet the average American uses the words ‘fear’ and ‘anxiety’ interchangeably. “Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.” The person suffering with anxiety is focused on what might happen in the future and this expands to multiple areas of life. They may talk about a concern in one area of life which leads to another concern, and the next, until there is a long train of concerns. The central focus of all these concerns is the uncertainty they see and feel in life. Usually, the concern does not have much basis in what is really happening in their life; there is no real threat. Their concerns are usually a series of ‘what ifs.’
WHAT TO DO ABOUT ANXIETY?
If you do a search to find ways to deal with anxiety, you will find a host of links willing to offer advice. Leading the list of things one can do to ease symptoms of anxiety is taking care of primary physical needs; eat well, sleep well, and exercise. It is also suggested to stop smoking and drinking alcohol. As temples for God’s Spirit, we should have good nutrition, which includes not smoking or abusing alcohol. We should take God’s example to rest, including having a Sabbath. God also created us to use our body with work and exercise, so this should happen on a regular basis. Although these are ways to take care of the body God gave us, these suggestions are a human way of dealing with a spiritual problem. I do acknowledge that some people may have physical causes of the anxiety they experience. For most, there is a lack of trust in the One who created all things and holds all things.
HOW TO DISCIPLE SOMEONE DEALING WITH ANXIETY?
Let’s look at how we can address the issue of anxiety with God. Below, you will find suggestions to get you started with showing someone dealing with anxiety how to trust and obey God. Please note: if the person you lead or disciple has moderate symptoms of anxiety, please refer them to mental and/or medical professionals.
Prayer is the lifeblood of a disciple’s relationship with God. As disciple makers, we must teach the people God entrusts to us how to pray, as we pray for them.
Pray for them. Several times Paul writes his prayers for the people God entrusted to him. If you have not studied Paul’s prayer for the people he led, you should. Here are some things Paul prays for them:
- To be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer, endurance, encouragement, unity and that they glorify God (Romans 12:12; 15:5-6).
- For God to keep you strong to the end (1 Corinthians 1:4-9).
- That others would see you doing what is right, even when it looks like failure (2 Corinthians 13:7-9).
- Wisdom, to know God better, to be rooted and established in love, to be filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21).
- For God to complete his good work in you, be pure and blameless, be filled with the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:3-11).
- For God to fill you with knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding, to have a life worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:3-4).
- For God to strengthen your hearts and sanctify you through and through (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; 5:23-24).
- For God to count you worthy of his calling, the name of Jesus be glorified in you (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
How are you praying for the people God has entrusted to you? Disciple makers should be praying strong, God-glorifying prayers for people; not just asking God to help them get better from the cold they have. Strong prayer for people shows that our hearts are aligned with God, and we plan to cooperate with his plan in their lives. The people we know who deal with anxiety need strong prayers.
Pray with them. Oftentimes, we spend time praying for the people we lead and not with them. If we do pray with them, it is a short prayer at the beginning and/or end of our time together. Instead of the couple of minutes you squeeze in at the end of your time, plan to take 10 -30 minutes of your time in prayer together.
Teach them to pray. In that extended prayer time, you can teach them to pray. It has been said that the best way to learn to pray is to do it. We also learn to pray by praying with people who are more comfortable with this discipline. People with anxiety need to learn to take their thoughts and emotions to God and allow him to work in them. It will also be helpful for you to hear what they are asking God so you can help them watch for how he answers. This will build their trust in God, which could ease the anxiety they experience.
God’s Word should be the center of discipleship. It is where we learn about God and understand what it means to worship and obey him.
Disciple makers teach others to trust and obey God. In order to trust and obey, people must know who it is they are putting their trust in and what he calls them to do. This means disciple makers must take people to God’s Word.
When people understand that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent they can then trust him. They then realize that the all-knowing God knows the future and it is not uncertain for him. They realize the ever-present God is with them all the time in whatever situations they face. It is important for people dealing with anxiety to realize that the all-powerful God can deal with all the situations they don’t think they can handle. He knows it all. He is with them all the time. He is powerful enough to handle all.
This means it is the disciple maker’s responsibility to impart these aspects of God’s character to the people he entrusts to them. Showing someone where it is in the Bible is not enough, we have to help them see these aspects of God’s character in their life. Point out the ways God has been with them, taken care of a situation, and given them peace amid uncertainty and chaos. When the person dealing with anxiety experiences God in this way, they can place more trust in him for the things that feel uncertain.
Challenge people to take steps of faith. Jesus challenged the Twelve in many ways. One of the most notable was when he sent them on mission by twos. He sent them with no food, clothes, or money, and no plans for where they would stay. I am sure the Twelve felt like they were stepping off a cliff.
People dealing with anxiety usually prefer to remain in their comfort zone, much like the rest of us. Stepping out of their comfort zone can feel like stepping off a cliff. The difference is this: what looks like a cliff to those with anxiety seems like stepping off a curb to others. An example: a parent may not be willing to allow their 5-year-old to play alone in the room off the kitchen while you talk in the kitchen. Their mind is filled with “What if?” while you are wondering, “Why not?”
Disciple makers should challenge all the people they lead to take steps of faith. The challenge should be steeped in compassion, understanding, and patience, especially for those dealing with anxiety.
Since there has been such an exponential increase in the number of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety, disciple makers should be willing and able to address this issue. Imagine what our community, workplaces, churches, and homes might be like if we help people entrust their unknown to the God who knows all.
 Nina Julia. (2023, January 5). Anxiety Statistics & Facts: How Many People Have Anxiety? Retrieved from CFAH: https://cfah.org/anxiety-statistics
 American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2023, from Anxiety: https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety
This post originally appeared at: Leading Others to Confidence in God — The Bonhoeffer Project