Max Lucado on Why God Doesn't Want You to Be So Anxious
An interview with the author and pastor
As the world moves faster and faster, feelings of anxiousness and anxiety are much more common. But in his new book, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World, author and pastor Max Lucado argues that Jesus Christ Himself also experienced feeling anxious and what that means for the way society has stigmatized those emotions.
We talked to Lucado about overcoming anxiety and his new book.
RELEVANT: You’re obviously reacting to what you see as chaos around us. Beyond that, what inspired your new book, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World?
I’m still a pastor, and I have been at the same church since since 1988. Nearly all of my books have come out of sermons, and nearly all of my sermons come out of conversations I have with people.
A couple of years ago, I feel like I went through a battery of conversations with people battling anxiety and concerns about how to deal with the uncertainty of the future. I went through some changes in my life that led to my dealing with some insomnia and dealing with an endless stream of negative thoughts.
Between those two things, I began thinking I needed to revisit this whole theme of anxiety. My approach on that was to try and find a passage that I could lead the church through on a week-by-week expository.
I began thinking about the passage in Philippians 4 that begins with “rejoice in the Lord always” and ends with “be anxious for nothing.” I started working with that Scripture and thought, Wow this is perfect. It connected deeply with the church and that’s when I thought about turning it into a book, too.
RELEVANT: What is the difference is between anxiety and fear?
Fear is the response when we see a rattlesnake in the yard. Anxiety is when we see know there’s a rattlesnake in the yard and decide never going to walk through a yard again in life. Fear is really a God-given emotion that causes us to protect ourselves. Anxiety is indulging in that emotion and allowing it to take over our minds. That’s the way it paralyses us.
RELEVANT: Issues surrounding anxiety and mental health are becoming more prevalent. But not always within the Church. How do you think about how the church has approached mental illness?
First of all, because of misinterpretation of the phrase “be anxious for nothing,” we often assume anxiety is a sin. That is not what Paul is saying. What Paul is actually saying is, Don’t allow yourself to be perpetually anxious about anything.
It’s really a way interrupting the downward cycle of anxiety. No body can be anxious for nothing in a way that we will never feel anxiety; anxiety is a part of life. But we can learn, by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, how not to be sucked into the quicksand of anxiety.
Anxiety is an emotion, and emotions aren’t sins. But yet we have created a stigma that if someone is anxious he or she is sinning. Well, anxiety might lead to a sin, but in it of itself it’s not a sin.
We need to help people to see that treating your anxiety with additional help, if needed, is totally acceptable. We certainly get external help when we have a broken bone, and we also do if we have some bacterial issues. There are some of us who have a mental makeup more susceptible to anxiety than others.
In my own life, I have battled insomnia. Even as a teenager, I would battle it and anxiety manifested itself in my life by stealing my sleep. I think there is some chemical replenishment in my brain that I have to keep sedatives on hand. I should say I actually choose to keep some sedatives by my bed. I travel with them because I know if I have an anxiety-ridden day, it will be difficult for me to sleep. I’ve come to peace with that. Maybe I won’t be like this forever, but that’s where I am still.
RELEVANT: You mention that Jesus Himself battled anxiety. Can you talk about what that looked like for Him and how it compares to ours?
The fact that Jesus did battle anxiety is encouraging. I shouldn’t beat myself up even when I do, because in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus felt so much anxiety he was on the ground and praying and it was so intense that the capillaries in his skin burst and he sweat droplets of blood. According to the book of Hebrews, Jesus called out with loud cries and tears. His prayers were so anxious, he had to go to his followers and wake them up to pray with him. But here’s what we know: Although the anxiety was real, the anxiety did not win.
Through prayer and faith, Jesus was able to continue His mission. Though anxiety came, it did not win.
There are many things I think this story of Jesus can teach us. One of them is that a way to deal with anxiety is turning to friends and sharing your troubles with them. The fact of the matter is that anxiety is better dealt in a community than alone. One of satan’s lies is that he is trying to get us to be quiet about our anxiety.
RELEVANT: Tell me about the acronym “CALM.”
As a preacher, I like to give people take-home tools they can immediately put into place on Monday. It seems to me there are four big ideas in Philippians 4: (1) Rejoice in the lord; (2) ask the lord for help; (3) leave your concerns with God; and (4) meditate on good things. In the sermon series, I organized those ideas into the acronym:
– Celebrate God
– Ask God for help
– Leave your problems with God, and
– Meditate on good things.
That gives the reader or listener an immediate tool to begin working on his or her anxiety.