Anxiety afflicts countless people and is one most common and distressing causes of suffering. Christians are not immune to it. Proverbs 12:25 mentions anxiety directly, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes anxiety, but a good word makes it glad.” Those suffering from anxiety can experience intense feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, fatigue, and various other symptoms. Anxiety is often triggered by life circumstances and can pull you into the pit. There are numerous biblical references to anxiety. Scripture describes the struggles of people who suffered from anxiety, even though they were faithful servants of God. These men did not suffer because they were sinners. They suffered because they were human and were susceptible to severe pressures. The first humans to express anxiety likely were Adam and Eve after they sinned against God. Fortunately, many Christians suffering from anxiety can find hope in biblical foundations. Here are six biblical figures who struggled with anxiety.
Martha is a significant New Testament figure, a friend of Jesus, and someone many women can identify. She is mentioned in Scripture three times. She lived in Bethany with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. The story she is commonly associated with is one referenced in Luke 10. She is in Bethany, a small town near Jerusalem, where she is hosting Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was known to Martha and her siblings. On the day that Jesus visited, Martha was focused on being a good hostess, for Jesus’ sake. Her sister, Mary, however, was taking the time to listen to Jesus. This brought Martha great anxiety, which many of us can relate to. Luke 10:40-42 says, “Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from here.’” In Martha’s life, we see the importance of balancing service with worship.
Job suffered from anxiety after many personal losses. First, he lost his material possessions, then all of his children. Then he was devastated by a grievous physical affliction. He broke out in painful boils. The Bible tells us, “Job opens his mouth and cursed the day of his birth…Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb, and expire?... Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter soul, who long for death, but there is note...[they] exalt when they find grace. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes” (Job 2:1,11,20-22,26). Job is in a battle in which he does not understand why God is permitting his suffering. He accuses God of being the cause of it. Yet, Job’s endurance glorified God for it answered Satan’s challenge and showed the unseen spirits, as well as men, then and throughout the ages, that God’s people serve Him, not a mere return for spiritual benefits but because of who He is.
Possibly the reason for this was because Assyria was a continual threat to Israel’s existence, and the prophet hoped that this threat would disappear in their destruction. This is seen in Jonah’s words, “Therefore now O Lord, take, I pray thee, my life from me for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). The truth is, Jonah could have rejoiced in the forgiveness extended to the Ninevites, but his self-pity blinded his eyes to the mercy of God.
Even kings suffer with anxiety. King David was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). Israel’s most illustrious kind – a giant killer from his youth – and here was also a man given to anxiety amid his suffering. As related in some of the Psalms, the anxieties of David stem from any of several probable causes. If you have ever been anxious, you know the symptoms: faintness of heart, endless days, sleepless nights, tears, obsessive fear, and numbness, to name a few. As you read the Psalms, you realize that King David experienced many of the same anxiety symptoms. Yet, even during his anxiety, David is still able to sing praises to God.
Elijah grew anxious when he was rebuked while he was anticipating a moment of triumph. His lofty hopes were crushed; he became sick at heart. Up until this point, Elijah had been the epitome of spiritual courage. He now collapses, runs away when Israel most needs his leadership, possibly missing the chance for national repentance, and turns suicidal. He suffered from spiritual anxiety – a specific kind of anxiety that is related to commitment to God. Elijah’s anxiety, along with many other biblical characters, alerts us that being committed to God, does not necessarily exempt us from being anxious.
Moses was worn out. He was weary. He had a lot on him. Think about it. God had come to him in the desert in a burning bush that was not consumed and had told Moses to go get the children of Israel and bring them out of Egypt. Moses tried to tell God that he was not the man for the job. He just knew that God was mistaken. Then God went ahead and insisted. Moses obeyed God and returned to Egypt, he had won the support of his people and confronted Pharaoh on their behalf in the Lord’s name, and He had done everything right, to the very best of his ability. Then, it all went wrong. At that point, Moses cried out in hopelessness and despair, filled with feelings of futility. He felt that God had let them down. But the truth is, Moses’ whole ministry would never have come into being if he had not cried out to God from within his earlier anxiety.
We can learn a lot from these six biblical figures who struggled with anxiety. Though they suffered, these men recovered and went on with their lives, serving God. Those who are anxious spend a lot of time sleeping and, in the darkness, rather than the light. God’s Word encourages us to come out of the darkness and concentrate on Him. When we do this, we can find true peace and joy in Him.