|   Posted: October 20, 2022

Anxiety and Shalom

By Roberto Medrano, Director of Learning and Development, Latin America
a group of girls smiles at the camera

When you think about anxiety, what comes to mind?

Fear or doubt? Lack of control? Worry or dread? Even panic?

I ask this question for a very important reason. When we started with the COVID season, we were in lockdown, and I noticed many different issues arising for people — including significant mental health concerns. There was one particular case that really caught the attention of my wife and me, and it involved a young lady at church.

She was 28 years old — a very beautiful, successful woman from a wealthy family within the church. She had a great job. She was educated by the best universities around the world.

She seemed to have everything.

And suddenly, during lockdown, we got the news that she had taken her own life. She knew Jesus Christ, but whatever was going on inside of her led her to make that decision.

We were devastated.

I thought a lot about mental health after that tragic event, and it led my wife and me to start leading some discussions about mental health within our church. In my Latino culture, and potentially in other cultures as well, the church can often fail to embrace issues of mental health with maturity.

The message from people in the church sometimes seems to be, “If you are having a mental health issue like anxiety, depression or panic attacks, just pray, pray, pray — and it’s going to fade away.” Or on the other side, “These issues are a sign that you’re not doing a good job as a Christian, that you lack faith.”

And that’s really unfair. Consider what it would feel like if you came to someone and said, “I think I’ve come down with a disease. I feel sick.” You would never expect someone to respond, “That’s a sign that you are a bad Christian. That’s a sign that you are a weak person.”

A response like that would signify a huge lack of compassion — and a lack of understanding about the mind, about the body and about God. What’s worse, that person is choosing to judge you over a trial in your life instead of offering help.

But sometimes that’s exactly what we do as Christians with mental health. We judge people instead of realizing that just like the body gets sick, the mind gets sick.

A Biblical View of Anxiety

In Philippians 4:5-7 (NIV), the apostle Paul writes: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This passage is really interesting for multiple reasons, and I believe it holds the key to how we should think about handling anxiety as Christians.

The church Paul is writing to here — the church of the Philippians — was heavily persecuted. The town of Philippi was very proud of being Roman, and they saw Christians as a threat. Philippian Christians were constantly exposed to persecution, jail, even murder.

And Paul was in Rome, captured, knowing that soon he would give his life for the cause of Jesus. And in the middle of this awful situation, he tells us: Be gentle. Think about others. The Lord is near.

These are incredibly profound messages for Paul to be sharing — especially because he turns our focus outward rather than inward. Did you know that when people are depressed, psychologists have measured the two words they repeat the most: “I” and “me”? That does not mean that being selfish got them into depression, but it does mean that when we are in a state of deep anxiety, what we usually think about the most is ourselves: My situation. My pain. My loss. My darkness.

That’s why psychologists say that one tool to fight anxiety and depression is helping others. Thinking about others starts to take the focus away from the self, and when we focus on being gentle to others in the midst of a hard situation, we can open ourselves to feeling the Lord closer.

When I would go to visit with our church partners in the field, sometimes I would find myself struggling with different things mentally. But when I was with the pastors and children, listening to their pain and their joy, I would start to feel closer to the Lord. Instead of focusing on my own pain, choosing gentleness toward others, listening to them and caring for them would often help when I was mired in anxiety.

a woman looks out her window
two women pray together

The Importance of Three Disciplines

When Paul says not to be anxious, he’s not minimizing our pain or being dismissive. He’s not saying: “You don’t have to be anxious. You are better than that. Just forget about your anxiety.”

Instead, he tells us to turn our focus not only toward being gentle to others, but also to three crucial spiritual disciplines: prayer, petition and gratitude.

Being in a constant state of poor metal health is dangerous. We often make poor decisions in this state because we justify ourselves due to the way we feel: We may say, “I feel so sad, worried or depressed that this unhealthy choice seems OK.” I often hear about people, even Christians, abusing alcohol or destroying their marriage because they feel so bad.

Paul tells us to go in the opposite direction. He tells us that a better path toward freedom is choosing discipline in the ways of Jesus — not because we feel like it, but because it’s the healthiest and most Christlike response.


The first discipline Paul points to is prayer. When we are in a state of depression or anxiety, we often don’t want to pray — but God notices that we’re choosing to acknowledge him, even when we don’t feel like it.

Maybe you start a prayer saying, “I don’t want to do this, Lord. I don’t feel like praying. But I will pray and share my heart with you because I know you hear me.” We do it because we are his soldiers — because we’re disciplined, and because we can trust that he listens attentively to us.


The second discipline Paul shares is petition. In the Spanish translation of the NIV, the word used is rogar, which means you are begging for something. The awesome thing is that the Lord wants to hear what we are truly feeling, and to petition — beg for — what we want from him.

I don’t know if this happens in Africa or in Asia or in the U.S., but in El Salvador, when we pray in church, we use a lot of fancy words that don’t reflect what we’re actually feeling. When you are in a state of anxiety, and you pray with those false words, I think the Lord says, “Give me a break. That’s not what you are feeling.”

King David is a great example. Some of his prayers were very close to blasphemy — he was very honest and bold. And the Lord wants to hear that, that we are hurting, that we feel lost, that we feel purposeless.

The fact that he’s almighty does not mean there should be distance between us and him. Actually, the fact that he’s almighty means that he’s the only one who can ultimately help us in our moments of need. So we can go to him and “beg” for what we need — and faithfully thank him when he provides.


And lastly, Paul tells us to choose gratitude. It’s so awesome to think of gratitude as a discipline, because we often think of it as a reaction to something good happening. But in the times when you are battling against mental health issues, gratitude is a choice. It’s one of our most powerful weapons. We are called to find gratitude in everything, acknowledging God’s goodness by focusing on what we have, not what we lack.

To help you start down a path of gratitude, think of the loved ones in your life. Think of your abilities. Think of past experiences of joy or of God’s faithfulness to you. Think of your home, or the financial resources you have. Think of something as simple as a shower — most people in the world have to walk two or three miles to get water, but we only have to walk to the bathroom — and many of us even have hot water!

Gratitude is a powerful discipline that leads us straight to the heart of Jesus. Instead of having a heart that focuses on what we lack, let’s choose to have a heart that thanks the Lord for what we do have.

a father and daughter read the Bible together

Don’t Seek to Understand

But even when we choose prayer, petition and gratitude as weapons to fight anxiety, it’s tempting to think we will gain full understanding of our anxiety, find closure and move on.

Unfortunately, it’s not like that. What Paul is pointing to in Philippians 4 is God’s peace, his shalom — a peace that passes all understanding. As Romans 12 says, God’s will is perfect. But we may not understand our story fully until we are with the Lord in heaven.

Recently, in the space of four months, I lost my mentor, my best friend and my pastor. All of those meaningful people in just four months. When my best friend passed away, his wife told me, “Brother, I know without a doubt that I won’t understand why this happened. All I know is that I will have peace and that I will enjoy God’s shalom.”

Only God’s peace can fall upon us even when we don’t understand, when we don’t have the answers. God’s shalom guards our hearts and minds. He won’t let go of us.

So in the midst of anxiety, let’s seek to show care and gentleness to others. And let’s seek the Lord through prayer, petition, gratitude. Choosing these disciplines may not lead us to understanding, but they will light our path toward his gift of shalom.

Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that as our bodies get sick, sometimes our minds get sick. For anyone who is suffering from a mental health issue, Lord, let your Holy Spirit lead this person to take their need to your feet and to look for help in your church, in the congregation of Christians. And let your people be a people of gentleness, ready and willing to listen to those who suffer.

And we ask that through prayer, petition and gratitude, we will turn our hearts to you, and you’ll be present with those who suffer — because you are a merciful God, a God full of grace, who understands our suffering.

But no matter what happens, thank you, Lord, because you offer shalom, a peace that transcends understanding. We won’t have the answers, but we ask for your shalom.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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