What the Bible Teaches About Anxiety & Contentment
“Our life on earth is a brief pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness.” So wrote the late Rev. John Stott. He was commenting on Paul’s candid way of summoning the believer’s soul to the green pastures of contentment.
Writing to Timothy, Paul says: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Tim. 6:6-7).
How do two lowly moments of nakedness summon us contentment? Think about it. We brought nothing into the world. No shoes. No shirt. No food. No money. We entered life naked. We were desperately dependent on the love and resources of others. Wonderfully, contrary to all our deserving, we were given food, clothing, shelter and more. Our desperate need was met.
When we come to die, we will be desperate again. Naked again. Cold again. Poor again. We enter the next world taking nothing from this one. Yet God’s goodness far exceeds that of our earthly parents. If they dressed us after our desperate birth, how much more will our heavenly Father dress us after our desperate death. He will raise our decaying bodies from the grave. He will keep our sins from bringing us into judgment. He will welcome us into his eternal kingdom. He will dress us in the glory of his Son. He will shelter us in the city of God. Our contentment then should rest upon us in hope now.
What then is discontentment, anxiety, brooding, worry? These are ailments of soul when we are captivated by fear that life is not as stable as we think it should be. We have slipped. Earthly life has filled the frame. When the consolations of divine stability are eclipsed by earthly tumults, anxiety grips and squeezes and chokes.
In Psalm 94 the psalmist is in anxiety’s choking grip. The arrogance and ascendency of the wicked has captured him. They prey on the weak. They mock the devotion of the righteous. “They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive” (94:7). Even worse, God seems withdrawn from the godly and remains quiet before the noise of the proud. Thus, the psalmist confesses: “My foot slips” (94:18). The instability of earthly affairs tempts him to lose his footing in the hope of God.
But then, unexpectedly, while sick with worry not healthy with hope, while weak not strong, while crying and complaining not cheering and exulting, the psalmist receives grace. “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (94:19).
Do you see it. It is not a change in earthly circumstances that cheers his soul. All those remain. His sight of God has changed. His sight of faith has been healed. God has visited his crying child: “The Lord will not forsake his people…your steadfast love held me up…the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge” (94:14, 18, 22).
According to scripture, anxiety is not treated by acquiring some new hope that our earthly situation will soon change or new proofs that it will be more stable than we expected. Scripture teaches anxiety is treated when the Word and Spirit grant us to see the eternal God more clearly, whose love for his people is unchanged and untouched by the fads and impulses and instincts of earthly life. In Christ crucified for us, risen for us, reigning for us, coming again for us, we have the stability we have always been looking for. Here alone, on this Rock, is true, lasting and ever new contentment.
In one of the most wonderful children’s stories ever written a unicorn named Jewel speaks of the surprising experience of entering the blessedness of heaven. I speak of C.S. Lewis’, The Chronicles of Narnia, the final book of the seven aptly titled, The Last Battle. As Jewel takes in all the glory and all the wonderment of Aslan’s everlasting country, he says: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” Jewel then calls out to the others, “Come further up, come further in.”
Contentment in this pilgrim’s life is the fruit of going to heaven, not yet in body, but already in faith, in Christ Jesus who is risen: “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:5-6).
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.