Why So Anxious? by John Burke (Hope and Anxiety Series)

At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke kicked off our series called Hope and Anxiety.

Anxiety is at epidemic levels in our society, and for many of us, it is a daily struggle. Coming in various forms, from frivolous worries to debilitating anguish, our experiences may seem unavoidable. But what could be behind all this anxiety, and where can we find hope for true freedom?

*Consider professional help if your anxiety has been severe or prolonged.

The Hope and Anxiety series included the following messages:

With your family, roommates, or life group, work through the Message Next Steps:

Why So Anxious? Next Steps

Watch the message John Burke shared:

Hope & Anxiety – Why So Anxious? from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

Here are the message notes from John Burke:

When we do surveys every year and ask “What’s the topic or issue you need help with most?”  Anxiety and Worry come up #1. 

Anxiety is epidemic in our society, but there’s Hope—we’re gonna give very practical ways to find hope in it.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, you need to know you’re not alone, and it’s not all because you’ve done something wrong. It’s a complex issue, but I wanted to start with how bad it can get, even for a very smart Dr. of Philosophy and devoted Christ Follower because that’s not the end of the story. There’s Hope! 

There IS HOPE even in the struggle, and that’s what I want you to hear today. 

We’re going to talk through a very practical path through Anxiety to Hope, based on a book that my friend, Dr. JP Moreland wrote.  And maybe you’re thinking “Well, this doesn’t apply to me, I’ve never struggled like that.”  But hold on because there are various Grades of Anxiety and all of them affect us in negative ways.

So first, Identify your level of anxiety.

According to Psychology Today: “Roughly 1 in 5 people regularly suffer distressingly high levels of anxiety” or Severe Anxiety like JP just described.

1/3 of Americans will experience an Anxiety Disorder in their lifetime. It’s epidemic. Probably due to a number of factors, family and relational breakdown, increasing lack of roots or social ties, the speed of life, the constant bombardment of information, computers and smartphones—it’s all affecting us. But if you suffer severe anxiety, there IS Hope just like JP and others you’ll hear from have found.

Maybe you’ve never experienced severe anxiety like JP, but many have Moderate Anxiety – about 2/5 of people deal with symptoms like feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge, often fear-driven—fear of being alone, or fear of not succeeding, or fear of financial ruin, or it comes with excessive worry about the future—”what if’s” – what if I don’t’ close this deal, what if I lose my job, what if I don’t find the right person?

Moderate anxiety causes difficulty concentrating; mind going blank, Being irritable, Having muscle tension, Difficulty controlling feelings of worry, Having sleep problems.
Or Moderate Anxiety may come in the form of a Social Anxiety—an intense fear of social or performance situations, leading you to avoid social situations or having to speak in front of others.
Your body will tell you if you’re feeling intensified anxiety or stress, even if your mind is not aware of it. And that’s important because…

Many in our day have Low-Grade Anxiety, even if we don’t admit it. Many of us live with constant stress, it feels normal, but your body will tell you it’s not okay—eye starts twitching, stomach rumbles, neck and shoulders are tense, headaches, constant FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
Psychology Today says FOMO Anxiety is real–constantly checking your phone or social media—fearing missing out.
In fact experiments show the greater the phone-time use, the greater the anxiety level when taken away for even 1 hour.
So do this–go without your phone a full day, even a 3hours if that sounds like death, and monitor your thoughts, especially your fears, and how your body reacts—you’ll know if FOMO anxiety is stealing your Peace.
And if you’re thinking “I could, but I don’t have a problem, so I don’t need to do that.” Well, as they say in Recovery “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.”

Smartphone excess is making us dumb.

But whatever level of Anxiety…there’s HOPE.

Philippians 4 says:

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:5-9

It is possible!

God did not leave us without the ability to experience Peace and Hope—in fact, it’s promised by God.

There is Hope, and there is a Path toward Hope. 

This is a passage we’re going to spend time dissecting to see how it applies, and correlates with science, and really can increase your Peace and Hope if you put these things into practice like it says. We’re going to look at a wholistic approach—so I won’t say medication is bad, sometimes it’s necessary, but it doesn’t get at the roots, we want to get at the roots of the problem.  We’re basing this Path to Hope on what Dr. JP Moreland discovered from the truths of scripture, along with psychology and psychiatry and how they can all work together for a wholistic approach to get at the roots, not just the symptoms.

Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Me Peace
Dr. JP Moreland (coming May 2019)

This passage starts, The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything…” Philippians 4:6.

It’s possible. Not that anxious thoughts won’t ever come, but it’s possible to be free of anxious living. Even of Severe Anxiety?  I think so, because I know many who have.

What Causes Anxiety?

First, what causes Anxiety—which can also be accompanied by depression—and one can trigger the other. Causes include: Genetic Predisposition, and early childhood trauma or chaos.

Identify if you have a pre-disposition to anxiety.

This doesn’t determine our behavior, we can still make choices, but it means we have to be more aware—protect yourself from triggers.

Consider your triggers

Triggers are more common, behavioral things we do that cause anxiety—like stress.

  1. In fact, stress or red-lining through life and work is the number 1 most controllable cause of Anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, you must reduce stress—put margin, downtime, rest in your life.
  2. A close second is worry, where we fix our minds on something over and over, letting future fears play out over and over in our minds

Philippians 4 reminds us we can choose what we fix our minds on, either imaginary worries, or whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil.4:8

So Identify triggers to anxiety —stress level

1-10 with 1=resting, relaxing, even board and 10 is intense high pressure, deadlines, constant moving.
Then worries, fears–write them down. What are the triggers, financial fear, relational fears, recognition fears, social fears, FOMO fears?

Stress, worries, fears—These are triggers you can do something about, but first you must identify them.

A Holistic Approach

Our approach is going to be wholistic—meaning we are Spirit, Soul, and Body—so anxiety must be addressed spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Understanding yourself as Spirit, Soul, and Body is essential for Hope and Peace in place of Anxiety.
Your Spirit relates to God and affects how you view life and yourself. Your beliefs affect your self perception and self talk.
Your Soul animates your body, and has will and emotions, and the way you talk to yourself in your soul affects your Body.

Your body talks to you if you’ll listen—telling you when your Spirit and Soul are not in line with how God intended.

The Bible has holistic and functional view of humanity. This implies that we should launch our attack against anxiety and depression using tools that address all aspects of ourselves Spirit, Soul, Body. For instance, sometimes medications are needed for the body, the brain—kind of like crutches help a bone to heal—sometimes medications are needed to allow the neural pathways of your brain to re-wire.

Your Soul’s thoughts and emotions can literally wire your brain, so we can use psychology to address the mind or emotions, and we can use biblical, spiritual truths and practices to address the spirit with is meant to guide the souls thoughts). Let’s talk about each.


First Spirit – Jesus said this:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked…“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”  John 3:3-7. 

Jesus is addressing a mystery—but it greatly impacts everything if you understand what He’s saying—flesh gives birth to flesh (your mother did that—with a little help from your father—he had the easy part), but only God (who is Spirit) can bring your Spirit to life eternally. You didn’t choose your physical birth, but spiritual birth is a choice—God lets you choose to be born of His Spirit and adopted into His family.  And a simple choice is all it takes. In fact, Jesus said he came to reveal God who is Spirit in a form we could relate to, because loving relationship is what God wants:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed [trusted] in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  John 1:11-13.

This is very significant for our path to Hope in a world of Anxiety. Here’s why—If you don’t have confidence that you are loved by God, secure forever with God, at peace with God, God is in ultimate control and you’re safe in His arms—well, be fearful and anxious, cause the world’s not safe. Truth is, we live in a world free to choose against God (to not receive or trust our Creator), so we go against God’s will, it makes life unsafe and anxious.  But not ultimately if we belong to God.

God wants us to live secure under His watch, even in an insecure world. 
Anxiety is spiritual at the root, even though there may be genetic or environmental factors.

Imagine if you had a little kid who was constantly anxious that you wouldn’t provide food or clothes or would stop loving him—even though they’d never gone without. Wouldn’t that make you sad? You want your kids to feel loved, secure, at peace—even though it’s a rough world—but you’re watching over them.

God wants the same for his children–be Anxious For Nothing. But let every worry, fear, anxious thought—prompt you to turn to God “let your requests be known to him.” Talk to him about it—give him the things you can’t control.

present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds. Phil. 4:6-7

His promise is a peace that guards your heart and mind, even in a hostile world.

And this can change everything if you really start to live like you believe it—to trust what God says more than what your fears or worries about tomorrow say. Jesus came to assure us God is for us, not against us—no one loves you more, and peace with God—is there to receive—like a gift.  You just tell God you want the forgiveness, peace, guidance Jesus came to bring.

Spiritual formation is how we grow up spiritually—not just to say we believe God is good, loves us, forgives us, adopts us as children—but to let it form how we act.

Too many Christians don’t actually act like they trust in what they claim to believe.
This is where spiritual formation practices can help.

The Soul and Body

But that’s not all, we must also address the The Soul and Body–which are distinct, but not separate.

JP’s analogy is The Soul is to the Body as Salt is to Salt water.  The soul is salt, salted water is your body.  When you put salt in water, it resides in every part of the water and changes the character of the water. In the same way, the Soul resides in every part of the body.

The body is not a body without a soul—without a soul, it’s a corpse and quickly deteriorates. The soul can live without the body—for instance, if I lose my legs, I’m not 25% less of myself—right? But a body can’t live without a soul. When a soul leaves a body, there’s a fundamental change immediately.  But at the same time, the soul is dependent on the body while in the body. A soul can’t see without eyes, for instance.  Now, if this is hurting your head…

Here’s why this matters to Anxiety.

  • First, the way the Soul thinks, handles emotion–the self-talk of the soul, can actually change the physical structure of the brain and nervous system—which makes anxiety a habit.
  • But the soul is dependent on the brain too—so sometimes medication prescribed by a physician or psychiatrist is needed to return the brain to a more normal chemical balance so the soul can rewire the brain through new habits.

Yet, How many Christians come to church to hear a message, sing worship songs, maybe even read the bible or spiritual books daily, but they fail to practice, practice, practice—then wonder why they don’t experience the Love, Joy, and Peace God promises for those who follow him. In that Philippians passage, it says

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9

In addressing anxiety, it may be important to train one’s mind in a certain way since the mind affects the feelings and body.  Certain habitual patterns of self-talk trigger anxiety. If my mind constantly entertains fearful thoughts about the future, this will affect my emotional faculty by creating anxiety, eventually wiring it into my body—my brain–so that it becomes not just habit, but character.  That’s when if feels out of our control.

But that’s how we change things too:

A habit is an ingrained tendency to act, think or feel a certain way without needing to choose to do so. 

The way you write the letters of the alphabet is not something you probably need to think hard about.  It is a habit, you concentrate on the content of what you’re writing, not on the habitual style of handwriting you’ve developed.

 Character is the sum total of one’s habits, good and bad.

The parallels with becoming good at life (e.g. having a steady life of peace, joy, and little or no anxiety) come the same way. You can’t just make those happen, but some things you can do to form new habits that change character. Romans 12 In the NT says:

 “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you…This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2.

Make God your Life Coach.

When you present your body, it involves not only a one-time act of dedication, but a habitual, repeated bodily exercise involving specific body parts like breathing, heart-rate, and your mind—catching anxious thoughts, letting God change the way you think, replacing anxious thoughts with His right thoughts that eventually form new habits that come to reside in your body. Eventually, what you couldn’t do—stop feeling anxious, or just be at peace—you’ll find dwelling in your character. That’s what we’re going to focus on the next three weeks.

So here’s your assignment for this week:

1). Identify your level of anxiety: Severe, Moderate, Low (even FOMO)

2). Identify if you have a pre-disposition to anxiety. Do you see anxious habits in your relatives? Was your childhood chaotic, stressful?  Know that God cares and is compassionate. So be compassionate with yourself, and know there’s Hope—you can do something about it.

3). Identify triggers to anxiety. Stress levels—reduce them, worries, fears. Are they mainly financial? Job related? Relationally triggered?  What often proceeds anxious feelings?

4). Let anxious thoughts trigger prayer —when anxiety or worry come, start forming a new habit—let it trigger you turning to God in prayer “God, you say Do Not be Anxious, so show me how to trust you with things out of my control.”  If you want Dr. Moreland’s book to get into more it comes out in May:



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