Life in a fallen world can be, to put it mildly, difficult. Natural disasters hit. We get sick. Relationships break. We struggle to make ends meet. And even if life seems to be going well right now, there’s always the nagging thought that everything can change in an instant.
We’re fragile, vulnerable, and terrifyingly not in control. And perhaps counterintuitively, the failure to recognize these realities isn’t a sign of maturity or self-actualization but rather a sign of delusion. We are creatures, not gods.
Yet awareness can also easily turn into anxiety. Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount are familiar to many of us: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34). While it’s true that anxiety is oriented toward the future, it’s experienced in the present and can be influenced or motivated by our past. So anxiety can strike when we think about the past, experience the present, or worry about the future.
How, then, can we reorient ourselves when anxiety threatens to overwhelm us? While life is more complex and nuanced than offering easy steps to get from here to there, asking myself three questions has proven helpful.
1. What’s the most important truth about my past?
The older we get, the more opportunity there is to look back with regret on some of our choices, whether sinful actions or simply decisions we made back then lacking the information and knowledge we have now. Some may feel haunted by the guilt of what they’ve done, while others feel enveloped in shame for evils done to them. Incidents from our past can often influence us in the present, provoking anxiety regarding things done to us (Are we safe now? Will the bad thing happen to us again?) or things done by us (Does God really forgive us? Did our choices ruin our own or others’ lives?).
But as real and influential as our past actions and the actions of others may be, as believers, none of them is the most important thing about our pasts. The most important truth is that God chose you, redeemed you, and made you his (Eph. 1:3–7). You’re a beloved child of the Father (1 John 3:1). You’re united to Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). You’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6).
2. What’s the most important truth about my present?
If we’re honest, sometimes the present feels like nothing more than the place where past regrets and traumas and future anxieties and fears meet. We find it hard to live in the present because, on the one hand, we seek to make sense of our pasts, and on the other, we struggle with anxiety about what the future holds. And sometimes our present circumstances are full of suffering and difficulty.
The most important truth about your past is that God chose you, redeemed you, and made you his.
Most of us realize that going through difficult times isn’t the hardest thing we can face. Rather, the hardest thing is navigating difficult things alone. And that’s why the most important truth about your present is that God is with you and promises to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
It doesn’t always feel like God is with us (Ps. 88). But even though your circumstances might be screaming that you’re utterly alone, you aren’t. Even if other Christians aren’t walking with you in your distress, God is with you.
You are united to Christ in an inseparable bond. And that means there’s a Friend you can talk to, day or night, who is making intercession for you at all times (Heb. 7:25). God’s presence means he sees you and he hears you. And it means the indwelling Holy Spirit is empowering you to endure despite the weakness you feel.
3. What’s the most important truth about my future?
This is perhaps the best question of all because now we enter the realm of hope, and biblical hope does not—and cannot—disappoint (Isa. 49:23). It’s easy to experience anything from low-grade, rumbling-under-the-surface anxiety to all-out, full-blown terror as we contemplate the future.
What if I’m disabled and no longer able to work and support myself or my family? What if I’ll never be able to afford a house and rent prices keep going up? Who will take care of me in my old age if I’m unmarried and childless? What if my spouse dies? What if my business fails? What if my children destroy their lives or reject the gospel?
Biblical hope does not—and cannot—disappoint.
Anxiety is highly creative and endlessly imaginative, well-suited for infinite mental scrolling and defying a hard stop. Well-meaning people say this or that will never happen to us, but no one can promise that. So in the face of these fears, we must widen our perspective to focus on the bigger, broader guarantees about our futures.
What’s the most important truth about your future? You will live in perfect happiness forever, beholding the glory of God (Rev. 21:1–7; 22:1–5). No more money problems. No more relationship problems. No more health problems. No more pain. No more confusion. No more fear.
Yesterday, Today, and Forever
The God who created time yet exists outside of it provides all we time-bound creatures need to rightly view our past, present, and future. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He inhabits our past, present, and future with his sustaining grace and loving presence—even (and perhaps especially) when we feel like anxiety is winning and we’re failing.
May these three questions serve as a faithful compass, helping to guide our hearts and minds back to true north when anxiety strikes. God chose us from the foundation of the world, God is with us today, and God will one day bring to fulfillment his promises of a perfect world in perfect fellowship with him.