People respond to anxiety by sleeping, by avoiding sleep, eating junk food, constantly surfing through television channels, checking email or Facebook for the 100th time, or staring aimlessly into space. Sometimes people choose anger and other times sadness. There are many responses to anxiety that do nothing but deepen wrinkles, sap joy, paralyze effort, and lead to a sense of hopelessness. Are you anxious?
Perhaps anxiety is most recognizable by being unfocused and distracted. To be anxious is to have a divided mind. A mind not anchored drifts and is carried away by the winds of various troubles.
Why is anxiety such a problem?
Anxiety is a sin. Jesus said, "do not be anxious" (Matthew 6:25). Paul echoed the words of Jesus when he wrote, "Do not be anxious about anything . . ." (Phillipians 4:6). The bottom-line reason that anxiety is sinful is because it preaches a false doctrine. The anxious person is a false teacher. He says by his worry that God is not trustworthy. Anxiety is a terrible sin.
Anxiety is wasteful. It kills productivity and is ultimately useless. Jesus put it like this, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life" (Matthew 6:27). Worry cannot change anything in a positive way. Anxiety can change things but always for the worse. Anxiety is connected to numerous health problems, for example. Anxiety can take the life out of your marriage, the joy out of your family, the energy out of your work, and years off of your life. It also takes your eyes off of God.
Anxiety has a narrow focus. Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life . . . Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing (Matthew 6:25). The anxious person lives as if this life is all that there is. They may be so focused on trying to find their best life now (avoiding pain, obsessed with health, denying death, seeking escape from problems, gaining success) that they forget that life is more than right now. Jesus calls people to seek his kingdom (33) which embraces the life that now is and the life that is to come.
Knowing that anxiety is a sin, that it is wasteful, and that it has a narrow focus, what are we to do when tempted to be anxious? After all, life is hard. Every day there are things that do not go our way, troubles that enter our pathway, and challenges that we really want to go away. Often problems are huge and through worry we magnify them even larger than they are. Psalm 4 provides answers.
Cry out to God (1a). Remember that in prayer you are crying out to the righteous, prayer-hearing, and gracious God who cares for flowers, sparrows, and especially for his people.
Recall God's faithfulness (1b). Notice how the Psalmist phrases his prayer, "You have given me relief when I was in distress." He remembers God's past faithfulness as a means of finding present comfort.
Understand the real need (1c). What is it that we really need in the midst of our troubles? We need God's enabling grace. We might imagine that the removal of our troubles is what is most needed but what we need even more is God's grace. We need the grace of being heard. "Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
Trust God (2-3). The Psalmist reminds himself that he belongs to God who hears his prayers. We have a small chicken house outside of our house. One afternoon one of our daughters got locked in the chicken house. She was crying out for help. I did not hear her. Thankfully one of our neighbors heard her and ran to set my daughter free. If I had heard then I would have sprinted to my daughter's aid. God always hears our cries and he always comes to our aid. What he brings is enduring grace that sets us free. A loving parent will run to help his child, much more will our heavenly Father help his children.
There are more principles in Psalm four. The Psalmist is committed to godly living (3), he ponders the truth about God (4), he worships God (5), and he delights in the face of God (6).
The Psalm closes with these words, "In peace I will lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (8).
I have an old postcard that was given to me years ago. The front of the card is a picture of a city at night. The caption reads, "Sleep well tonight . . . Your National Guard is awake." The message on that card may or may not be comforting to you. However, if you know that God is watching over you, that he controls all things, and that he cares for you, then indeed you can sleep in peace even in the midst of trouble.