A friend of mine, a cancer survivor with a compromised immune system, is a grade school teacher. She is required to go back to the classroom later this month. Although her physician counsels that she not go back, her superintendent is not making any allowances for her to teach on Zoom. Many over-60 educators are facing the same stress. It’s just the latest manifestation of Coronavirus anxiety.
That’s right. Coronavirus anxiety is a thing—and it has been for several months. Believe it or not, there’s an actual website dedicated to virus anxiety. Also, the CDC has a webpage up, giving help for people struggling with Coronavirus anxiety. So does the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an organization that I didn’t even know existed before this week. CNN has a page listing the signs of serious Coronavirus anxiety. Whether it’s the isolation we feel, the socio-economic stress we face, or just plain tension from wondering if the disease will strike someone we love or even ourselves, we’re not just living during a viral pandemic. It’s an anxiety epidemic as well.
And while there are many places to turn for help with anxiety, it seems to me that it would be best to turn to the Word of God for some guidance on coping with Coronavirus anxiety. In Philippians 4:6-9, there are three steps to take for dealing with anxiety and two promises from God. Let’s look at them.
The first step is to double down on prayer. In v. 6 Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything (I presume the current crisis fits under this category of ‘everything’), through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” This verse uses several synonyms for prayer—the first word, “prayer” being a general word of praying to God; the second word, “petition” referring to requesting specific benefits from God; the third, “thanksgiving” refers to gratitude to God for past mercies shown; and the fourth, “requests” refers to extended, specific lists of requests of God (Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, 190-92). In times of long term crisis, we tend to focus on our fears and not the Sovereign God who can control the wind and the waves. Yet this verse tells us to pray and be specific about it. Now’s the time for us to get out a prayer notebook and list out all of God’s past benefits, thank Him for them, and then, make as specific a petition list as possible. We need to regularly come to the throne of grace and we’ll find help to meet the need there.
A second step to take is to refresh our minds. That’s what v. 8 means when it says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise, dwell on these things.” We need to fill our minds with Scripture not constant updates from the Johns Hopkins website or terrifying news reports. Let’s use the time we have to read, study, memorize, and meditate on the Bible. Renewing the mind is not limited to Scripture. How about reading great literature? Maybe now’s the time to break out the Narnia Chronicles and read them again. And what kind of music are we listening to? This may be the season to listen exclusively to your favorite kind of worship and praise—every style is readily available on internet radio. Check out the various Moody Radio music stations on the Moody Radio app. Also, why not watch some of the great comedy and adventure movies of the past? We can fill our minds with influences that will encourage and lift us up rather than focusing on our fears.
A third step to take is to focus on obeying God and His Word. Paul writes, “Do what you learned and received and heard and have seen in me . . .” He is telling the Philippians to follow the biblical teachings they learned from him and to follow his example of obedience to God. When anxious we want to find instant gratification and relief. And frequently that leads to disobedient behavior. Pandemics and anxiety are not sin anytime we like passes. Instead, they are times when the Lord wants to build faithful endurance into our lives.
There’s lots of good advice out there for dealing with anxiety—get some exercise daily, eat healthy, make a list of projects and get some things done. These are all good ideas. But only these biblical steps give us two promises.
The first promise is that the peace of God will guard us. Paul says that by doubling down on prayer, “the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Messiah Jesus” (v. 7). Years ago there was a wonderful small movie about a high school kid being bullied so he hires the biggest kid in the school yard to be his bodyguard. Now kids ought not to have to buy protection to stay safe in school. Neither do we in our lives. This verse tells us that God’s incomprehensible peace will be our mental and emotional bodyguard. He will put a hedge around our anxious thoughts.
The second promise is that the God of peace will guide us. As we pray, renew our minds, and obey God’s Word, “the God of peace will be with you.” This is not a promise that those we love won’t get the virus or that we won’t. Rather, it’s a reminder that wherever we go or whatever we do, as we walk with God, He will be with us and guide us into whatever we need. And that is remarkably reassuring.
Let’s not let Coronavirus anxiety take control of our lives. Instead, let’s take charge of our anxiety by living out Philippians 4:6-9. Maybe the best first step to take is to memorize and meditate on this crucial passage. As we do, we can be assured that the peace of God and the God of peace will care for us.