View Cart

Biblical Wisdom for Anxiety

Truth In Love 420

How do we identify the desire behind sinful anxiety?

Jun 26, 2023

Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast, I have with me Pastor Tim Pasma. He’s ministered at LaRue Baptist Church in LaRue, Ohio, since the spring of 1985. He’s married to Rebecca and God has blessed them with three sons and three daughters, three daughters-in-law and a son-in-law, also 14 quite active grandchildren. Pastor Tim earned a B.A. from Cedarville University and an M.Div from Grace Theological Seminary, he serves as an ACBC fellow and is on our Board of Trustees. He lectures frequently on counseling issues at counseling conferences and for a number of Christian organizations. Tim, I can’t wait to get into this topic. I’m so glad that you’re here to help us think biblically through this issue of anxiety. Welcome, brother. 

Tim Pasma: Well, thank you. I’m really glad to be here, especially with this topic. This one is very close to my heart. 

Dale Johnson: Honestly, it did. You know, before we jumped on and started recording, it did lighten the mood a little bit when we were talking about wrestling and enjoying some of the things that you’ve been enjoying here, recently, following the high school team around where your son is the coach, and just a lot of fun stuff. So I appreciate you sharing a little bit about that and your joys to follow around the guys as they wrestle squad is quite fun.

Well, let’s talk about this issue of anxiety because I think there is some confusion on this particular topic as we think about worry and anxiety and, you know, frequently we have questions that come in as we ask what are topics that you guys want to hear about on the podcast, and this consistently remains at the top of the requests that we get. So, we need to do some work here in talking about anxiety. So, when does righteous concern turn into sinful worry or anxiety?

Tim Pasma: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, the Bible’s word for what we would say, concern and anxiety are the same, just like the word for trial and temptation are the same and the context is going to help us understand what’s involved here. I mean, we have to understand that the same word may be used, but there may be in the semantic range there’s where it’s wrong and where it’s right. And how do I distinguish it? Well, one way is your thoughts become unproductive, you were just thinking all the time and you’re not doing it. I remember Jay Adams saying that worry is like sitting in a rocking chair and rocking all day long. You work real hard, but you don’t get anywhere, and you’re exhausted by the end of the day. Your thoughts become unproductive. It controls you rather than you controlling it. You can’t sleep at night, you wake up in the middle of the night, and that’s the first thing on your mind. It controls you, it causes you to neglect other relationships, right? You are so consumed you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do for that day because you’re utterly consumed and listen these things that I’m telling you I know because I’m a veteran of the worry wars, right? My first year of ministry was absolutely horrific. I was anxious like crazy, and all these things were true. I lose hope rather than finding answers. I’m focused on the future and changing the future—something I can’t control.

And so, all of these things will tell me, and even my body told me, I remember, I had a counseling case, it was really on my mind, I went to the doctor, I was feeling pains, he checked me out, and he said, you got to spastic colon. I think that’s what it was and right away I knew why I had it, right? So those are ideas that tell you, this is when it becomes worry, sin when these things are happening. Concern, those things aren’t happening. I can say I’m concerned… let me see, I’ll jot down some ideas on how to deal with that, and I’ll be praying about it. But then I go on to do my other things. All right, I’m not consumed by it. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think that’s a helpful distinction. And one of the ways that we can learn to diagnose ourselves based on the outline of the Scripture and the way the Scripture uses these types of terms that it’s good to be in a righteous way concerned about others and for their well-being and that sort of thing versus, you know when we have sinful fears, sinful worry, and it consumes our life. I think all of us as you’re describing the rocking chair example, I don’t think Tim, we have to think too hard to imagine what that’s like, because it’s so real to us and so common to our daily life.

And as we talk about the issue of anxiety or any type of fruit that comes from us, we talk a lot in counseling about desires and we talked about this issue of idols of the heart. God says that sin starts in our heart, James sort of describes it in James 1 as a desire or as a passion that’s going on in our heart. So what possible desire or passion produces this sinful worry, sinful anxiety?

Tim Pasma: Yeah. That’s interesting. In my counseling what I’m trying to understand is desires. I’m always asking myself. What’s the payoff? Desire always promises something. So what’s the payoff? It’s promising me something. And so, as I learned about anxiety and the biblical approach to it and what God says about it and so forth, I started asking myself what’s the desire behind your worry? What used to be, you know, I don’t struggle with it like I used to. And so I say, what was the desire behind that? And here’s what I came up with two things. They’re related.

One is peace; I love peace, leave me alone in my office and let me read, okay, I just want a nice easy life and I’m sitting on my nice smooth pond, and someone’s walking toward my pond with a rock in his hand, and I’m thinking, oh no, he’s going to spoil everything, and I start scheming about it is I just don’t like conflict, I want peace, right? So that’s one Idol. One desire, the other was this: my worry would tend to be around meetings with people, okay? And the worriers out there, you all know what I’m going to say. He’ll say this, and I’ll say that, he’ll say this, and I’ll respond with that. You’ll do this. And I’ll do this, and I’m telling you, you just get consumed with that, and I thought, why do I do that? Here’s why I do that. I’m trying to control something. If I can be absolutely prepared for this confrontation, right, I’ll have control of it. Well, what I’m trying to do is control something I don’t have any control over. I can’t control that now, right? And worriers out there know what I’m saying. You’ll think of 125 things that can happen and be ready for it. And number 127 will happen, right, that you don’t know anything about, and so, it was a desire. The payoff to worry is you’ll have control of that situation but like Ephesians 4:22 says, put off the old man whose corrupted by its deceitful desires. Desires can never deliver on their promise, and they actually do just the opposite. So now, other people may have different desires behind it, but there is a desire behind worry. 

Dale Johnson: Now, I think that’s so well-stated. I use the term, the journey of the what ifs where we’re trying to answer all of these questions about what if this happens? And what if this happened? And what if that happens? and we emotionally go on this roller coaster of all those potential realities, and we find ourselves overwhelmed and consumed by those things. And even as you mentioned, the comical thing about it, for all of us, is that typically what happens in reality is one that we haven’t even considered. We see the foolishness in us pursuing those things. And in those desires, as you mentioned, where the promises of those desires don’t come true. It’s an unworthy thing for us to lean on, for us to trust in, and so it’s one thing what you’ve done already is to help us to understand how the Bible diagnosis these things, how the Bible distinguishes these things, something from being a healthy God-given response to an unhealthy sinful response and the Bible can help us in dynamic to understand and diagnose this sin that comes from our heart, these particular desires and so it’s one thing for the Bible to be able to do that. It’s another thing altogether for us to understand God’s remedy or God’s answers to worry. So, Tim, talk a little bit about God’s answers to this sinful worry. 

Tim Pasma: We have to go after that, the desire, right? We have to go after that person’s desire. That’s very important to do. What kind of payoff are you expecting from this worry? And help them to understand that desire and to crucify that desire, of course, on top of the list is repentance, right? I got to repent for my sins of worry. Because what I’m doing is I’m essentially saying, God, you’re not sovereign, right? And you’re always working for my good. So even if that meeting out in the future that I’m worried about turns south in a major way, you’re going to do something good with it. So you have to have repentance. I got to deal with heart issues. I got to remind myself of God’s provision. Jesus does this in the classic passage, one of the classic passages on worrying in Matthew 6. Jesus says God is going to provide for you, right? and in Matthew 10, he says God is looking after the sparrow. Don’t you think he will look after you? we got to redirect our energies. Seek first the kingdom of God. So instead of worrying about tomorrow, God has given me enough on my plate for today to serve Him, and I need to go after those things. I can’t sit in my office all day just worrying because what happens is now I’m behind another day I got more to worry about or seemingly, so I have to throw myself into the energies of today, Matthew 6:33 and 34. Today has enough problems, or tomorrow. You got enough today to do, so do it. I should plan for tomorrow, right? I can plan, but I had to trust God to direct, as it says in James 4.

One of the things I think we need to do is to recall God’s faithfulness to us. We have a whole history of God being faithful. So when I’m tempted to worry about a situation that’s coming up, I look back, and I say you remember that situation and that one and that one and how you thought it was all going to go and how God works something through that horrible situation that you were worried about. In fact, it was worse than you thought it was going to be. But now, from this side, look what God did. So you recall the history of God’s faithfulness to you, and then I have what I call the dragon slayer, which is Philippians 4:6-9, which I summarized as pray right, think right, do right. Okay, I gotta pray and it’s interesting in Philippians 4:6, he says make your requests known to God and pray with thanksgiving. Worriers are not thankful because what they want is a different reality than the one God gave them. So they tend to be ungrateful people. And so God says, pray with thanksgiving.

So when I was worried, I would get alone, and I would say, okay Lord, you know, this is happening, you know, this is coming. I’m praying for that. My request, I say, and I can thank you now, because I know on the other side you’re going to make me a better pastor or a better husband or a better father, you’re going to do something through that, all right. And then I need to think right. I’ve got other things to think about, Philippians 4, I think about what is criteria and don’t think about that consciously switch your thinking and then do right. Get busy with what you got today, Philippians 4:9. That was very, very, very helpful to me in those days when I was consumed with worry. 

Dale Johnson: Amen. And it closes by just saying that the peace of God. And if we pause there, we’re not talking about a feeling. We’re talking about a person. The peace of God is Christ. Ephesians 2:14, He Himself, Paul says, is our peace, and it’s the peace of Christ which will guard our heart and mind. It’s Him knowing His word, knowing His promises are true, which are quite the opposite of all the desires that we’ve been pursuing, you can just see such a huge contrast, and it is a call of a faith to believe in the promises of what God has given and those things will adequately hold our hearts stable.

Now, as we talk about anxiety, some people have in their minds maybe different degrees different levels. We’ve talked up to this point about biblically distinguishing between that which is concerning to us in a helpful, godly, God-honoring way versus sinful worry, sinful fear, and sinful anxiety. A lot of people will also talk about issues of panic attacks, and you know, people sort of get quizzical. How does a biblical counselor handle things like panic attacks? So I’m going to put that to you. Tim, how does a biblical counselor handle anxiety attacks or panic attacks?

Tim Pasma: What we have to understand is no matter how extreme it does not change our basic approach, all right? You’re doing normal counseling in extraordinary circumstances, it doesn’t change the normal way to do counseling, but you do have to remember something that there’s a physical effect of habitual sin, okay? I love Romans 6:19, where he talks about the more you give yourself over to sin, he is talking about unbelievers there, but it says, the more you give yourself over to sin it leads to ever-increasing wickedness, and he talks about the members of your body. And so I would say there could be a physical effect of habitual sin, okay? And so, let me illustrate it.

So I’m counseling a woman who is really struggling with anxiety, and it gets to this extreme; she has what she calls an out-of-body experience, right? That comes with this extraordinary worry. So it’s a form of a panic attack, if you will. And so I said to her, here’s what you need to understand, you need to do God’s will, you need to determine that God’s will and not your body is going to determine what you do. Your body is doing all these things. Okay, fine. But don’t let your body be your boss, as one young ten-year-old counselee once said to me, “I decided I was going to let my body be my boss.” Don’t let your body be your boss, do what God tells you to do, okay? Now, what do you have to do? And I said, when this happens you call me. She calls me and I say what are you going to do? I’m supposed to be feeding the kids. Feed the kids no matter what. No matter what your body is telling you to do, what’s next? I got to give him a bath. Give him a bath, no matter what your body is telling you to do, and put them to bed, read them a story, do all those things. Just do not do what your body is telling you to do. Just keep doing what God tells you to do. And after a while those physical things start going away, right? So, when someone comes in and tells me I am having panic attacks, I’m sitting, I’m at the grocery store, and I’m looking at wheatbix. All of a sudden I get this feeling right away, I’m thinking they’ve had their habitually worrying about things and maybe at a low level. But eventually it shows up, does that makes sense? 

Dale Johnson: Absolutely, it does. And I think this has, we can go down this road a little bit, but I think this has something to say about how the mind and the body are woven together. That’s what it means for us to be human. And I would say that as you described in habitual sin, we will see this reflected in our body. Our bodies are intended to respond to what we believe to be reality. And when patterned over time we’re going to have physiological responses, and I think that’s a part of what Paul is talking about when he says, we’re presenting our members once again, this idea that our bodies do come under bondage in some way. And that’s why it feels like in the moment, we can’t help it, or I can’t help it. I can’t control this. Well, I would say, yeah, you can’t control it in that moment, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not morally culpable or we shouldn’t address this in an appropriate way. So, I like the way that you’re walking that out. Obviously, we could talk about this for quite some time, but very helpful thoughts, Tim, I think on helping us to distinguish some of these differences, helping us to think even further about the more severe expressions of something like a panic attack. So, thank you, brother, for joining us today. I really appreciate it, and helpful for your biblical thoughts and your biblical wisdom. 

Tim Pasma: Thank you, Dale. It’s great being here.

Helpful Resources:

Register for our 2023 Annual Conference. You can join in person or virtually!