“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”Philippians 4:6
Have you ever dealt with anxiety? Yeah, me too. For some, anxiety is a surprise guest that arrives in anticipation of big events or problems: marriages, moves, or money issues, for example. For others, it’s a life-long companion. Counseling, medication, and a whole host of other remedies are employed to keep anxiety at bay. To that list, let’s not forget a simple antidote that the Bible commends: thankfulness.
Paul tells us to combat our anxieties with prayers that are tuned with gratitude to God. To him, this is an exercise in totality: don’t be anxious about anything; instead be thankful in everything. This is easier said than done, of course, but it should help in our pursuit of a thankful heart to understand why gratitude is such a powerful corrective to anxiety. I can think of at least three reasons.
First, thankfulness gets me outside of myself.
Anxiety is an obsessive concern for me, myself, and I. It means the loudest voice in our heads is our own, and God’s is often drowned out. Conversely, thankfulness is an active recognition of the wonderful things of life that come from outside of us, specifically from God himself. And for those who struggle with anxiety, this doesn’t come naturally. It’s a mission we must intentionally undertake: searching the world for truth, goodness, and beauty, and poised and ready to offer praise to God for granting it (see James 1:17).
Second, thankfulness takes my mind off of what I don’t have and causes my thoughts to dwell on what I do have.
It’s the simple exercise of counting our blessings. Anxiety lives in the land of lack: I don’t have a good job, I don’t have a spouse, I don’t have many friends, I don’t have good looks, I need more money, I need better health. Thankfulness extinguishes that destructive way of thinking because it rejoices in the reality of God-given excess. Isn’t that what Jesus taught when he spoke on anxious fears? “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious” (Matt. 6:30–31).
Third, thankfulness gets me talking to God, who alone can still the anxious heart.
This is what Paul is after, isn’t it? “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Talk to God when you’re fearful or worried, Paul says. Why? Because he’s the one who can help. As the psalmist reminds us: “Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on him. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure” (Ps. 62:5–6, CEV). So there is an important correlation here: the more thankful we are, the greater peace we’ll experience and feel. Thankfulness is what “leads me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2).