We’re in a global pandemic of anxiety right now. Between coronavirus, the war in Ukraine, and the economy, the whole world is trembling. Millions are anxious about their health, or finances, or relationships, or job, or world peace.
What should Christians do when they realize they’re being tempted with anxiety? Here’s an answer to consider: View anxiety like a rock in the garden of your heart.
I have in mind Jesus’ parable of the sower (see Mark 4:1-20). He spoke of four different heart responses to the word of God. The second heart response in His parable was that of the stony heart (Mark 4:5-6). Stones in a garden inhibit the ability of roots to go deep. When roots remain shallow, the plant will spring up quickly but then be scorched easily when conditions are adversarial.
Here’s how Jesus described the stony heart:
These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble (Mark 4:16-17).
What are stones? Pockets of sin that hinder root development. All Christians have stones in their hearts, whether many or few, whether large or small.
Stones will surprise you. When gardeners turn over the soil of their gardens in the spring, they’ll sometimes hit into a stone they didn’t know was there. How did that stone suddenly get in their garden? Well, it was there all along, but it didn’t appear until a new season surfaced it. That’s because winter seasons cause stones to move toward the surface.
A change of seasons can cause stones to surface in your heart. For example, I can imagine a believer saying, “I have no fear! By the grace of God, I’ve gained the victory and don’t struggle with fear anymore. I am anxious about nothing!” And then along comes 2020 and coronavirus. Suddenly, that believer is shaken to the core, and they’re unexpectedly struggling with a stone of anxiety in their hearts. Where did that stone come from? Well, it was there all along—it just needed the right season to bring it to the surface.
Once you hit into a stone, you face a decision. Either you do the hard work of digging it out, or you tolerate it and leave it buried. But if we tolerate pockets of compromise in our hearts, we’ll never be 100-fold fruitful Christians. Those stones will hinder our fruitfulness. To be more fruitful, we must dig up any stones we encounter and throw them away.
What are some stones that can hinder the fruitfulness of our hearts? Here’s a sampling: Unforgiveness, pride, anger, hatred, bad habits, dating an unbeliever, envy, evil speaking, sexual sin, covetousness, foolish talking, stubbornness, fear.
Porn is a stone. Any believer who tolerates a stone of porn in their lives will never be 100-fold fruitful. Be violent with that stone and make a covenant with your eyes (Job 31:1). (My book, A Covenant With My Eyes, tells my story with this stone.)
Okay, full disclosure. I’ve been tempted with anxiety the past couple years. Why? Because coronavirus fallout has impacted my life in a very direct way.
Battling anxiety has been a new experience for me. I can’t remember the last time I struggled with it. But then my season changed—that is, 2020 came along. Suddenly, I was looking at a stone in my heart that I didn’t even realize was there. A new season had surfaced it.
I decided to go after that stone with spiritual violence. I said to my son, “Michael, you’re going to be my confessor. I’m going to confess my sin to you, and in the spirit of James 5:16, I want you to pray for me so that I might be healed.”
I told him the nature of my anxieties, and then he prayed for me. His prayer was short and simple. And here’s what happened: That stone was evicted immediately! My victory was virtually instantaneous. I truly experienced the joy of James 5:16.
Here’s the problem with anxiety. It engages in a battle for which there’s zero grace. God never gives grace to engage with tomorrow’s evil. Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34).
Jesus practiced this precept at the cross. He didn’t engage in prayer with the troubles of the cross until the day of His crucifixion. When that day finally arrived, He went to Gethsemane and agonized in prayer over the evil He was about to face. And He received grace to endure that day.
Most of us are tempted at some point to be anxious about tomorrow. What should we do with that temptation? Approach it like a stone in your garden. Do whatever you must to dig it up and get it out of your heart.
If you tolerate a stone of anxiety in your heart, fiery trials will really set you back. Whether it’s physical infirmity, or financial hardship, or marital stress, or persecution, the heat of a fiery trial will hit you real hard, and your fruitfulness will be curtailed.
If, on the other hand, you resolve in your heart to resist anxiety and labor in prayer only regarding today’s troubles, you’ll find grace and mercy at the throne of God for today’s needs (Heb 4:16). His grace will empower your heart to get free of the stone of anxiety.
Jesus’ inherent assurance in the parable is so encouraging: If we’ll remove every stone we find in our hearts, we will most certainly bear more fruit!
(Bob expects to write a book eventually on Jesus’ parable of the sower. If you sign up on Bob’s email list here, you’ll receive email notification each time Bob releases a new book.)