A Topical Study Example: Worry and Anxiety

To illustrate what such a Topical Study might yield, this outline will give the results of a rather extensive topical study on worry and anxiety that has actually been turned into a sermon. It will give you a good idea of how a study can look when it is complete, and reading through it might also give you some wisdom about the problem of worry and anxiety.



Anxiety and Worry

We may need to offer healing counsel to help relieve anxiety and worry - Matt. 6:31; 13:22; Luke 10:41; 12:11,22,25,26; 21:34; 1 Cor. 7:32,33,34; II Cor. 2:4; 11:28; Phil. 2:20; 4:6; I Pet. 5:7; Ps. 94:19; Prov. 12:25; Eccl. 2:22-23; 11:10.

1. What do anxiety and worry mean? Anxiety and worry are words translated from the same Greek word.


Some have differentiated the words as follows:
a. Anxiety is a feeling of dread, apprehension, uneasiness, shakiness, but often without a specific cause. "It produces a sense of approaching danger, but does not always have a reasonable cause. The source of the impending doom is not clear"--Norm Wright, The Healing of Fears.
In contemporary terms/complementary subjects, worry is described by apprehension, uneasiness, nervousness, disquiet, upset, anxious expectation.

b. Worry is a state of being fretful, overly concerned, or anxious expectation. Worry is asking, "What if"? and then answering. Worry is an attempt to move into the future and control it. We pre-image the future. It means: "to hang suspended in midair" in Luke 12:29.

2. What are the effects of anxiety and worry?


a. They can be a legitimate emotions when expressing concern for self and/or for others--I Cor. 7:33-34; 12:25-26; II Cor. 11:28. There are necessary concerns that each must attend to. Paul expressed these for the church on numerous occasions.

One author has said: "not all anxiety is destructive. There is a creative form of anxiety which causes a man to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. A mother answers the cry of her child in response to an inner anxiety. . . sudden danger stimulates the secretion of additional adrena- line into the bloodstream and prepares us for 'fight or flight'"--Norm Wright, Ibid, p. 56.

b. Anxiety and worry have a limit to their value, however, when the "worries of this life" dominate our attention.
Worry will choke our spiritual life and the Word of God like thorns wrapped around the neck (see Matt. 13:22; Mark. 4:19).
c. Anxiety and worry can cause a great deal of emotion and tears we can name-II Cor. 2:4, but they can also cause crying and anxious feelings for no obvious reason.
Note: People suffering from this kind of anxiety can have a sense that something is really wrong or about to go wrong, but they don't know what, i.e., anxiety attacks--read Psalm 55:1-5.
d. Anxiety can be a heavy weight to carry and it can even immobilize us. Proverbs 12:25--"An anxious heart weighs a man down. . ."
e. These two emotions can also profoundly affect our health--Ps. 55:4-5.


1) John Altrocchi, the author of Abnormal Behavior, describes the physical effects that worry, anxiety and fear bring: "Rapid and unusual strong heartbeat, rapid or shallow breathing, trembling, sweating, muscular tension, dryness of the mouth, changes in voice quality, and faintness. The anxious person may suffer other changes that he cannot perceive: heightened blood pressure, increased gastric secretion, and changes in the electrical resistance of the skin" (Harcourt Brace Jovanich, New York, 1980, pp. 42-44).
2) Gary Collins continues the list of physical effects by writing: "A degree of anxiety can shorten one's attention span, make concentration difficult, adversely affect memory, hinder performance skills, interfere with problem solving, block effective communication and arouse panic" ( Christian Counseling, Word Books, 1980, p. 60).
3) Norm Wright lists the following physical symptoms: headaches, perspiration, weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, constriction in the chest, indigestion, diarrhea, menstrual irregularity, insomnia, and muscular tension (The Healing of Fears, Harvest House, 1982, p. 55).


Other effects of worry/anxiety:
f. It causes us to misuse God's gifts. The mind is so busy imagining the worst possible circumstance, that it is not being used to project vision, creativity and ministry--Prov. 15:15; Matt. 25:24-25.
g. It keeps us from prayer and thanksgiving to God. It restricts and chokes our praise--Ps. 38:8-14; Phil. 4:6.


h. It distracts us from the friendship, instruction, and fellowship of the Lord--Luke 10:38-41.


i. It causes an inappropriate, and unhealthy concern for--the necessities of life--Mt. 6:25-34; Lk. 12:22-34.

Here are the principles to remember from the above passages:
1) Principle #1: Our life is superior to food--Matt. 6:25.
2) Principle #2: Our body is more significant than the clothes covering it--Matt. 6:25.
3) Principle #3: We are much more valuable than all of God's creation and thus He will take care of us--Matt. 6:26. If the Heavenly Father takes care of animals, birds, and fish, will He not all the more take care of us? "Are you not much more valuable than they?" --6:32.

Martin Luther writes with great charm: "You see He is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest man. . . whenever you listen to a nightingale, you are listening to an excellent preacher. It is as if he were saying, 'I prefer to be in the Lord's kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and He Himself is cook and host. Every- day He feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of His hand" (Martin Luther, The Sermon on the Mount , 1521. Translated by Jaroslav Peliken; in vol. 21 of Luther's works, Concordia, 1956, p. 197.)

4) Principle #4: Worry is futile--Matt. 6:27. Jesus proves worry is a worthless event. It adds nothing of any value to our life and it accomplishes nothing. If it adds nothing, then why do it? In a survey taken from people who worry, some very interesting things were revealed.


What do we worry about?
a) Things that never happen 40%
b) Things that can't be changed by worry 30%
c) Needless worries about health 12%
d) Petty, miscellaneous worries 10%
e) Real, legitimate worries 8%


Summary: It's easy to see worry and anxiety for the most part are a waste of our time and have a very negative effect on our life and the life of those to whom we might bring an aptly spoken word of counsel.


3. What causes worry and anxiety? Here are the most common sources:
a. Repressed anger creates anxiety;
b. Unrealistic standards set for us or by us can create anxious tension;
c. Situations in which a person must make a choice can create anxiety;
d. Unresolved or undealt-with guilt also creates tremendous upheaval.
e. Likewise, a lack of faith in ourselves and/or God's purposes is a frequent cause. (We'll return to this.)
4. How can we help? How can we help another relieve the debilitating effects of worry and anxiety? The following is a list of options/keys that will help. Some will overlap in their application, but most will be needed.


Begin with a simple, but profoundly helpful suggestion.
a. First, pray about the source of it. This is the first and a limited prayer. It is focused on finding the source of the anxieties and worries. It is a prayer that God will reveal what is in a person's heart, and thus motivating their anxieties--Psalm 139:23. Before we can pray about our worry and anxieties, we must first understand what it is that we are anxious about and the roots of the worry and anxiety.
b. Second, admit it and name it. If the anxiety is revealed, sometimes just admitting out loud what has been hidden in our hearts is a major step toward a solution. For instance, two of the most common worries are:
1) Worry and fear about rejection
2) Worry and fear about failure
Note: When we admit this, the solution is more easily seen.
c. Third, share it. Encourage your fellow worrier to share their worry with you or someone else.


For best results the sharing should be:
1) With someone who is kind --Prov. 12:25. Be aware that when you are helping an anxious person, your kindnesskind words and actionswill create an environment for change to take place, and maybe even bring immediate relief and joy. Wise and kind words can be like soothing medicine on an open sore.
2) With someone who has a bucket . Prov. 20:5--"The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." A person often needs someone to help them discover what is at the bottom of their soul. There are often deep waters in our soul. These waters are sometimes so deep, we don't even know what is in our heart.
Question: What do we and others need? As we have seen earlier, we need a bucket! We need to be the bucket owner, or know someone who will assist us to draw up the bucket. If not, we may never get to the bottom of the heart where the worry and anxiety are emitting from.
Note: We'll talk about how to acquire the skill of bucket drawing later.


In addition to prayer, admission to others and sharing the depths of the heart:
d. Fourth, faith it. Matt. 6:30c--"Oh you of little faith. . ." This is the crux of the problem and at the same time a clue to the solution. Uncontrolled worry and anxiety is "calculating without God, an absence of trust." So worry and anxiety is often dispelled by faith and trust.


1) Our job is to put the worry alongside of God's promises.
2) Our job is to evaluate the worry and compare it to God's character.


Summary: As we put the worry alongside of God's promises, and evaluate the worry in the light of God's character, faith should begin to be built again. More often than not, the worrier has forgotten God's promises and who He is.

To aid us in prayer, admission to others, sharing the depths of the heart and the rekindling of faith, the following are some very practical, even peculiar suggestions, to aid us and others to bring lasting change to our hearts.
e. Fifth, cast it, pray about it, snap it, don't fret it, & substitute for it.


1) Cast it on Jesus. I Pet. 5:7-- "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (See also Ps. 55:22; 94:19.) By linking legitimate concerns to God, believers can experience God's care and life.
Definition: Cast means to give up, or as one translation puts it, "Unload all your cares on Him." Cast actually means "having deposited with" and refers to a direct and once-for-all committal to God of all that would give a person concern.


Why should anyone do that? Because He cares for us.
a) Review His Promises and character --Is. 26:3; 40:31; 42:3; Deut. 33:27; Psalm 23:1,4; 46:1,11; 103:13; Rom. 8:28,31,38-39; Phil. 4:11,13,19; II Cor. 12:9.
b) Review His names . Then find a way to take their/your concerns, worries, and anxieties to the Lord as His name is restated.


The following names for Jesus and the Godhead may be helpful to generate the faith and trust needed. Why not make up a bucket for each name and put your concern in the one that meets your need?


1. Jehovah-Tsidkenu Lord our righteousness
2. Jehovah-Mekaddishkem Lord who sanctifies
3. Jehovah-Shalom Lord our peace
4. Jehovah-Shammah Lord is present
5. Jehovah-Rophe Lord who heals
6. Jehovah-Mireh Lord who will provide
7. Jehovah-Nissi Lord our banner
7. Jehovah-Nissi Lord our banner
8. Jehovah-Rohi Lord our shepherd
9. I am the bread of life --Jesus reveals God as the source of nourishment for our spiritual life; without Him, an aspect of our being shrivels and dies.
10. I am the light of the world--Jesus reveals God as the One who enables us to see through the dark nights of our soul. He dispels our confusion and leads us from chaos to order. When every direction looks dark, He lights a pathway for us.
11. I am the good shepherd--Jesus reveals God as the One who wil make us to lie down in green pastures. Something will always "shepherd" or influence the direction of every person; we do not have the option of self-sufficiency. Most of the influences that control people's lives also damage and destroy them, but the good Shepherd lovingly cares for the sheep.
12. I am the resurrection and the life --Jesus reveals God as the guarantor of our eternity. There is a life beyond this one, but that is of little comfort to us unless we know how to get there and that it will be heaven for us and not hell. In Christ we have that assurance.
13. I am the vine --Jesus reveals God as the source of all life and vitality. He is not a remote source like the distant sun that shines upon and brings life to the soil. He is a source to whom we are vitally and organically connected as branches to the vine, and life flows from Him through us.


Summary: Finding a way to cast their/our concerns, worries, and anxieties on the Lord, who is characterized by the above names, helps us build our faith, rather than give way to our worries!!!
In addition, another way to bring lasting change to our worried hearts is:
2) Pray immediately about it as soon as anxieties begin --Phil. 4:6-9. The following card may be of help.

Application: STOP/THINK/PRAYER Card


a) Take a 3x5 card and write on one side, "STOP"
b) On the other side write out "Phil. 4:6-9"
c) Carry it wherever you go
d) When you begin to worry:
* Take out the card and look at "STOP." Say the word twice, out loud. (If you're not alone, say it to yourself twice.)
* Turn the card over and read Phil. 4:5b-9 twice. There is a significant difference in the effectiveness of it when you do each side twice.
e) Then pray about what you are worried about--cast it on Him.


An unusual way to deal with their/our worries and anxieties is:
3) Snap it.


With this method you put a rubber band on your wrist, and every time a worrisome thought comes into your mind, pull the band away from your arm and let it snap back.
Note: Studies reveal that it takes 15-20 repetitions before a person can get a foothold on changing a habit.

A very effective and needed action to dispel worry is to:
4) Substitute for it--Matt. 6:33-34. Worry takes a lot of time and energy that could be redirected to a more constructive place, e.g., seeking the priorities of the kingdom of God. Therefore, an essential process is to "put off" worry, and substitute something in its place:
a) Concentrate on seeking the kingdom of God --"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness."
-- Seek to have His kingdom come.
-- Seek His rule inwardly (in you), outwardly (in others), externally (forever and ever).
-- Seek His righteous character and ethics.
b) Concentrate on the concerns of each day--Matt. 6:34. Why?
-- Tomorrow will generate its own worries, let alone the ones imposed upon it.
-- Each day has its own problems, so we and/or the one we are attempting to wisely counsel, don't need to live with tomorrow's problems too. Take care of today's first.


The next helpful suggestion for the anxiety prone person is:
5) Don't fret it

Application: PSALM 37"Fret not..."

We should teach others and ourselves to do as the definitions state! If you use this option, read through the Psalm out loud and pray at each encouragement.


a) Definition of fret: Means to eat away, gnaw, to gall, to vex, worry, agitate, wear away.
b) Definition of trust: Lean on, rely on, be dependent, and be confident in.
c) Definition of do good : Do a good deed, but move in a way that helps others. This takes the focus off you. It's good therapy.
d) Definition of delight : Rejoice, praise God.
e) Definition of commit: Means a complete letting go, the flinging of oneself upon God. Releasing the burden to God. This calls for a total honesty between us and God. We are to acknowledge to Him exactly how we feel. We attempt to give a full disclosure of our heart, and we name to God each emotion we feel. Following that, we commit to Him our total burden. We follow the pattern of David in the Psalms (see Psalm 77).
f) Definition of rest/be still : Means to not be anxious, to submit in silence to what He orders.
g) Definition of refrain from anger : It means don't try to find the solution to your need in your strength. This doesn't mean we don't ever have anger or express it to God and others. To repress anger and not acknowledge that it is there, can be extremely harmful to us and others.


Summary: Psalm 37 is encouraging us to refrain from allowing anger to drive us to bitterness, to hasty action, or to do harm to someone else. "In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (see Eph. 4:26-27).

Therefore, teach the one you are counseling they can express anger, but it is to be without sin, and they are to get over it as soon as possible. How does anyone do that?

-- Initially acknowledge the anger to God. After it is admitted to Him, then encourage the person to stay open to His redirection of that anger to a proper target.
-- Next, instruct the person to examine their heart to see if they have contributed to the situation. In order for a person to see themselves, this may require godly and gentle confrontation.
-- Whatever the case, make it clear it is essential they refrain from allowing their anger to destroy them.
-- Ultimately, anger should always be turned into forgiveness and not bitterness.


Summary: Finally in summary, we can now say we have looked our anxiety and worry in the eye, because we have used the bucket and other means to get it out of the depths of our heart.

In the future, each time worry reoccurs a. pray about the source of it; b. admit it and name it; c. share it; d. faith it; e. cast it, pray about it, snap it, don't fret it, substitute for it; and thus in summary:

f. Address it. II Cor. 2:4-- "For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you."


1) Paul did a wise thing by addressing his worry and fear in this letter.
2) He used at least three of the above options, i.e., he obviously prayed about the source of it (of heart); he admitted & named it; he shared it.
3) Likewise, no one needs to be so incapacitated by their worry that they don't address the problem.
4) We can prevent harmful effects or worry in us and others by our wise use of the above options and counsel.


Summary and reflection: The preceding options aren't the only solutions to worry, but they are a beginning place. As we noted, sometimes just exposing worry for what it is will end it. Other times it will be more persistent. Whatever the case, stay with a worrying friend and help them to refocus their thoughts on good and proper things.

Why is all this important? Norman Wright explains the need to change our thinking habits. He says: "What we choose to think about will affect our actions and inner calmness. Those who suffer with worry choose to wrestle with negative thoughts or anticipate the worst. What goes on within our imagination creates the anxiety feelings. If our imagination is centered about Godwhat He has done and will do for youif it is centered upon the promises of Scripture, peace of mind is inevitable. But you must choose to center your thoughts in this way. God has made the provision, but you must take action. Freedom from every worry and anxiety is available but you must lay hold of it. The principle here is: Learn to direct your thoughts toward God and His teachings and you will never worry"--Norm Wright, The Healing of Fears.

A. With that encouragement, read all the following verses. In your journal, give a few summary sentences how each section of Scripture will help the worry filled and anxious person:
1. Matthew 6:25-34
2. I Peter 5:7
3. Isaiah 26:3; 40:31
4. Deut. 33:37
5. Psalm 23; 46:1,11
6. Romans 8:31,38-39
7. Phil. 4:11,13,19
8. II Tim.1:7
9. II Cor. 12: 9,10
10. Psalm 103:13


B. Make up a stop/think card for any anxiety or worry you might have. Try using it. In addition, try to find someone you can make another card up for too. Check back with them to see how it worked.