Monday, November 5, 2012

Illustrated Summary of Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur

The subtitle of this book when I began working on it as a book editor for Pastor John MacArthur and his Grace to You ministry was "Applying Scripture to the Cares of the Soul." What Scriptures in the Bible specifically address anxiety and stress? MacArthur clearly explains 10 specific passages in 9 chapters and 1 appendix. Here is a summary of each with lively illustrations to encourage you to mine this book yourself for more gold nuggets than I can provide (order information is at the end of this post).

1. Observing How God Cares for You (Matthew 6)

Jesus says, "Do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?

"Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life?

"And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?

"Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:25-34).

Jesus is telling us to take a good look around us and observe or think deeply about the meaning behind what we see. Notice how this celebrated exchange between between Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in the short story A Scandal in Bohemia illustrates the difference between seeing and observing:

Holmes: You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.

Watson: Frequently.

Holmes: How often?

Watson: Well, some hundreds of times.

Holmes: Then how many are there?

Watson: How many? I don't know.

Holmes: Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.

Jesus issues a cease-and-desist order against anxiety based upon observing the sovereign care of a loving and omnipotent God. Anxiety is blatant distrust of the power and love of God. The word worry comes from the Old English term wyrgan, which means "to choke" or "strangle." God wants His children preoccupied with Him, not with the mundane, passing things of this world. He says, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2). To free us to do that He says, "Don't worry about the basics. I'll take care of that." Fully trusting our Heavenly Father dispels anxiety. And the more we know about Him, the more we will trust Him. Prayer is the way to deal with anxiety when it tempts those of us who choose to trust in Him.

   2. Avoiding Anxiety Through Prayer (Philippians 4)

The Apostle Paul issues these series of commands on dealing with worry: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:6-9).
Paul straightaway says not to worry, but he doesn't leave us there. He helps us fill the vacuum by directing us toward positive steps: right praying, right thinking, and right action. The best way to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a good one, and few habits are as bad as worrying. The foremost way to avoid it is through prayer. Right thinking and action are the next logical steps, but it all begins with prayer.

Instead of praying to God with feelings of doubt, discouragement, or discontent, we are to approach Him with a thankful attitude before we utter even one word. We can do that sincerely when we realize that God promises not to allow anything to happen to us as Christians that will be too much for us to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13*), to work out everything for our good in the end (Romans 8:28*), and to "perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish us" in the midst of our suffering (1 Peter 5:10). Let this be the grid through which you automatically interpret all that happens to you.

Some people assume worry is the result of too much thinking. Actually, it's the result of too little thinking in the right direction. Faith isn't psychological self-hypnosis or wishful thinking, but a reasoned response to revealed truth. Right attitudes and thoughts must precede right practices. Pure behavior, in turn, produces spiritual peace and stability.
3. Casting Your Cares on God (1 Peter 5)

The Apostle Peter had ongoing trouble with anxiety, but he learned how to deal with it. He passes on this lesson to us: "Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:5-7). 

The humble person realizes that God is both caring and in charge, always accomplishing His sovereign purposes. For the Christian, even the worst trial is only temporary. Remember that, for you will be tempted to conclude that because there is no end in sight, there is no end at all. Don't believe it for a minute; God promises to lift you out at the very best time because He cares about you.

A prayer in a small devotional manual that first appeared in Europe over 500 years ago echoes  Scriptures we have considered so far. That manual is well titled The Imitation of Christ and in it we read, "O Lord, greater is Your anxiety for me (Matthew 6:30) than all the care that I can burden myself with. He who does not cast all his anxiety upon You (1 Peter 5:7) stands only at a totter. Oh Lord, do with me whatever pleases You, for it cannot be anything but good. If you will me to be in darkness, You are blessed; if You will me to be in light, You are equally blessed."

4. Living a Life of Trust and Faith (Hebrews 12)

The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews says, "Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:1-4).

Hebrews 11 and 12 are the faith chapters in the Bible. Chapter 11 gives a general definition of faith and many clear Old Testament examples. God supplies us with examples from the past so we will be encouraged and have hope when we see how these very real people were able to handle their anxieties. Chapter 12 sums up the principles of living by faith. First, in the race of faith we need to strip off anything that will hold us back, such as materialism, immorality, excessive ambition, and doubt. Our actions reveal what we really believe. For example, when we worry, we are doubting that God can keep His promises.

What is our protection against doubt? "Above all," says Paul, "take up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16). Every time we sin, it's because we believe Satan instead of God. A second principle of living by faith is focusing on Jesus, who always believed God and, despite the greatest suffering, achieved the greatest victory. When you start thinking it's too tough to live the Christian life, consider that Jesus endured such hostility that He went as far as deathand realize you haven't gone that far yet. Having that often in mind has a way of keeping your anxieties in check. When you grow weary in the race, focus that much more on Jesus. Remember that His life of faith led to joy and triumph, and yours will, too.

5. Knowing Others Are Looking Out for You (Hebrews 1, Galatians 6)

Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as "ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation." Galatians 6:1-2 describes fellow Christians in a similar way: "If a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. Bear one another's burdens."

Some of the many things angels do on our behalf are guiding, providing, protecting, delivering, facilitating, and serving us. Because they are spirits, they help us more each day than we can possibly know in this life. Angels take care of us when we drive on the highway and they protect our children. Knowing God has His angels looking out for our children helps us not be tempted to worry about them because angels can do things for them we couldn't even if we were with them. What should be our attitude toward angels? We ought to respect them as holy servants of God. We ought to appreciate them, knowing that they help us through our difficulties. And we ought to follow their example of continual worship and service to God.

Angels Watch over Our Young Children and Our Grown Children

One of the best ways we can be helped in our struggle with anxiety is when we, as fellow believers, serve one another with the same diligence as the angels serve us. The same God who equips the angels to serve us also equips us to serve one another. Love is the key to effective ministry. Where love exists, there is true humility, which is an essential ingredient in mutual ministries and freedom from anxiety. Pride and anxiety focus on self, whereas humility focuses on others. In true fellowship Christians receive one another and are kind and tenderhearted toward one another, they forbear and forgive one another, show hospitality, instruct, gently admonish, and comfort one another. "If a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him get back onto the right path," says Galatians 6:1. That means come alongside and say, "Let me show you from the Word of God what is going on. Let's pray together. Let's walk on the right track together." Never underestimate the power of godly fellowship in bearing the burden of your anxieties.

6. Dealing with Problem People (1 Thessalonians 5)

The Apostle Paul says, "We urge you, brethren, warn the unruly, encourage the anxious, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people" (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

Here are 5 groups of problem people: the unruly, the anxious, the weak, the wearisome (requiring extra patience), and the wicked.  The Lord wants us to understand these groups of people so thatmuch more than not being numbered among their rankswe will help them. Then they, in turn, will be able to help others. Help a worrier not to worry and your own worries disappear in the process. What is more, there is less of a climate of worry in the church. That is an effective way to attack anxiety. The church does well as a whole when the shepherds and the sheep bond together to admonish the unruly, encourage the anxious, hold up the weak, be patient with the wearisome, and repay the wicked with love not vengeance. That is the bigger picture on attacking anxiety.

What kinds of encouragement bring the most relief? The encouragement of prayer to the God of all encouragement, the encouragement of a secure salvation, the encouragement of our sovereign God working out everything for the believer's good, the encouragement of the love of Christ, and the encouragement of the final resurrection and the righting of all wrongs.

7. Having Peace in Every Circumstance (2 Thessalonians 3)

The Apostle Paul closes this letter with a prayer any anxious Christian would love someone to pray on his or her behalf: "May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.... The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:16, 18). 

The peace that God gives is not subject to the vicissitudes of life. It is an attitude of heart and mind when we believe and thus know deep down that all is well between ourselves and God. Along with it is the assurance that He is lovingly in control of everything. Peace is an attribute of God's very nature. God is never stressed. He is never anxious. He never doubts, fears, or is at cross purposes with Himself. True peace has its origin in God and is a gracious gift from Him. Jesus says, "My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27). God's peace is always available, and there is no limit to it. The conditions for receiving it are trusting God, forsaking sin, and patiently enduring the refining process.

8. Doing All Things without Complaining (Philippians 2)

Paul specifies a habit to avoid: "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life" (Philippians 2:14-16).

Our concerns are productive when they lead to a sensible course of action, but not when they lead to anxiety. Be aware that our concerns are far more apt to follow the path to anxiety and misery if accompanied by complaints. It is a sin to complain against God, and we must see our complaints as such. "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" asks Paul rhetorically (Romans 9:20). "The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" Isn't it God we are really complaining against when we gripe about our circumstances? After all, He is the One who put us where we are. A lack of thankfulness and contentment is ultimately an attack on God.

When we stop complaining, we free ourselves to be all God wants us to be: blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach, shining as lights for Christ in a dark world by His life-giving Word (Philippians 2:15-16). How incongruous to be talking about the Gospel of forgiveness, joy, peace, and comfort, yet be moaning and complaining much of the time! Put a check on the complaints you utter and you will succeed in attacking anxiety at its source. You will be affirming that God knows what He is doing in your life.

9. Learning to Be Content (Philippians 4)

Paul demonstrates an attitude to cultivate: "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

"I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

"Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. And you yourselves know, Philippians, that...even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent,... well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:10-19).

Contentment Slays Anxiety
In the context of this inspired thank-you note, it is clear Paul knew what it is to be content. As white is to black, so is contentment to complaints and anxiety. The Christian's Excalibur against the dragon Anxiety is named Contentment. It is likewise the banner under which Christ's troops advance to personal victory. Paul was certain that at the right time God would order the circumstances so that his needs would be met. We can have that same confidence today. Until we truly learn that God is sovereign, ordering everything for His own holy purposes and the ultimate good of those who love Him, we can't help but be discontent. That's because in trying to order our lives, we will be frustrated by repeatedly discovering that we can't control everything. But everything already is under control by Someone far greater than you or I.

There are two ways God can act in the world: by miracle and by providence. Do you think it would be easier for God to say, "Hold it, I want to do this miracle" or "Let's see, I've got 50 billion circumstances to orchestrate to accomplish this one thing"? The latter is providence. Think, for example, of how God providentially ordered the lives of Joseph, Ruth, and Esther. Today He does the same for us. The example of the godly throughout Scripture is this: work as hard as you can and be content that God is in control of the results.

From the introduction to Anxious for Nothing
10. Psalms for the Anxious

Here is one rich portion among many: "When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought joy to my soul" (Psalm 94:18-19). 

Pastor John MacArthur once joked to his congregation that any Christian paralyzed by stress should be sequestered to a simply furnished room, given food through a slot in the door, and not let out until he or she had read the Book of Psalms! Believers undergoing this "psalm therapy" would know so much about God that they couldn't help but praise Him! Anxiety cannot survive in an environment of praise to God. True praise involves reciting God's attributes and reciting God's works.

If you have a problem facing you that you don't know how to solve, remember to praise God. Say to Him, "Lord, You are the God who put the stars and planets into space. You are the God who formed the earth and separated the land from the sea. Then You made humanity and everything else that lives. Although humanity fell, You had already planned our redemption. You are the God who carved out a nation for Yourself and preserved it through history, performing wonder after wonder. You are the God who came into this world in human form from that nationas prophesied from the beginningto live, die, and rise again as the Savior of all who trust in You." When we praise God like that, our problems pale in comparison to all He  has done.

Remembering who God is and what He has done honors Him and strengthens our faith. To help you do that, read through the Psalms the next time you're tempted to worry. For additional help, "Psalms for the Anxious" appears as an appendix in Anxious for Nothing, below. It focuses on portions throughout the entire Book of Psalms that most poignantly express and help us manage our anxious thoughts and feelings. Perhaps you'll want to lock yourself in a room to study and pray through them to help you have greater faith and trust in God!

Psalm 3:
"You are a shield around me, O Lord, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud and He answers me from His holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear.... Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!"

Psalm 4:
"Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.... Many, Lord, are asking, 'Who will bring us prosperity?' Let the light of Your face shine on us.... In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." 

Psalm 5:
"Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation ... My King and my God, for to You will I pray.... Let all those who who put their trust in You rejoice; let them always shout for joy because You defend them. Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You for You, O Lord will bless the righteous: with favor You will surround him as with a shield."

Psalm 6
"Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak.... Heal me, for my bones are troubled and my soul also is greatly troubled.... I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim ... with my tears.... Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.... He will receive my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly."

Psalm 7
"O Lord my God, I take refuge in You; save and deliver me from all who pursue me.... My shield is God Most High who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge.... I will give thanks to the Lord because of His righteousness."

Psalm 8
"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens.... When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor."

Psalm 9
"The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You."

Psalm 10
"You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted. You encourage them and listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed."

Psalm 11
"In the Lord I put my trust."

Psalm 13
"How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?... Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.... I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation."

Psalm 22
"O God my Strength, hurry to my aid. Rescue me from death; spare my precious life.... I will ... testify ... 'He has not despised my cries of anguish.... When I cried to Him, He heard and came.'"

Psalm 23
"The Lord is my Shepherd.... He restores my soul.... Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and staff comfort me."

Psalm 25
"Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged.... Look upon my affliction and distresses.... Guard my soul and deliver me ... for I take refuge in You."

Psalm 30
"Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.... You have turned my mourning into dancing ... O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever!"

Psalm 31
"In You, Lord, I have taken refuge. Let me never be put to shame.... Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.... Into Your hands I commit my spirit.... You saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.... I trust in You, Lord.... My times are in Your hands."

Psalm 34
"I sought the Lord, and He answered me: He delivered me from all my fears.... The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all."

Psalm 40
"I waited patiently for the Lord.... He lifted me out of the slimy pit ... and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."

Psalm 42
"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God."

Psalm 46
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved."

Psalm 48
"Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise.... He will be our guide even to the end."

Psalm 54
"Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me ... for He has delivered me from all my troubles."

Psalm 55
"My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.... I said, 'Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.... I shall call upon God, and He will save me.'... Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken."

Psalm 56
"When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.... You have delivered my soul from death and my feet from stumbling that I may walk before You in the light of life."


  1. I was drawn to the word anxious, and came away with some more life-infusing words. I struggle with people who use authority to make foolish decisions and disregard others. This leads to another nonedifying A word, attitude. After reading your blog Allacin, I am reminded that humility and grace are not manufactured. They are the expression of surrender and thankfulness to the Lord. Trials we genuinely face, or even manufacture in our heads, are really opportunities to grow in the Lord. I love your analogy to mining for gold in these readings. The words I need to declare are grace, humility, surrender, and thankfulness, and let them be an expression rather than attitude.

    1. Thank you, Deanna: I appreciate your taking the time to write such an insightful comment. So much of life is what we choose to focus on!