2011 marked the first double-digit spike in anxiety, depression and suicide. We experience more anxiety than ever in modern history, yet Jesus knew this just wasn’t a 1st Century issue, but a universal anxious soul problem.
A low-level anxiousness plagued the rich, young ruler. Esteemed by his peers, respected by his subjects, obedient from a young age, he exuded propriety. Yet worry filled his sleepless nights, searching desperately for an anecdote to his unrest. Hearing a miracle-working Rabbi was traveling to his region, he determined to meet Him.
As he approached the scene, his pristine appearance parted the crowd appropriately. He strode with an air of confidence, though his insides contorted in dis-ease. Amid a sea of expectant faces, he addressed the Rabbi, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “…If you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“I’ve obeyed all the commandments,” he replied. “What else must I do?”
Looking at him, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is one thing you haven’t done. Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me.” When the ruler heard this, he left despondently, for his wealth was great. (Matt. 19 & Mark 10)
In his efforts to earn right-standing, he lost his soul. His priorities—accumulating wealth and significance the world’s way—produced great worth, prestige and success, yet an unrest besieged his innermost soul. In search of relief, he hoped for approval or a short to-do list.
When faced with truth, his tightened grip on wealth disallowed prying his fingers open, leaving him eternally empty-handed.
From this well-intentioned ruler’s encounter with Jesus, I discovered 2 profound truths for my anxious soul.
1. Works-based living creates soul anxiety.
A garage sale and a nomad’s life—was this Jesus’ answer for every anxious soul? I learned from my pastor otherwise.
Jesus didn’t merely “look at him.” The Greek word looking means to “discern clearly.”
Jesus saw past appearances to the secret sin hijacking his soul, and for this man, relinquishing his grasp on wealth would bring soul rest in his true identity and purpose: a son of the King.
Reflecting on this narrative, I considered—what am I gripping too tightly? After prayer and journaling, I discovered my soul’s anxiety in my desire to control circumstances.
The anxious soul is a downward spiral of the unchecked overburdened soul.
My family has endured considerable stress the past few years, and my desire for security and relief ran wild, plunging me from overburdened to anxious living. Like the young ruler, it’s a trust issue. I believe my plans are better, so I work to earn God’s favor. If I pray enough, try hard enough, have it all together—God will bless us.
Let’s make a deal, God.
But Jesus has a better way.
2. Resting in Jesus’ plans fills my soul with His peace and purpose.
“Jesus looked on the man with genuine love for him.” He didn’t look on him with judgment or condemnation, but love!
Jesus knows intimately the greatest need of any soul.
When I attempt to fill my soul the world’s way, anxiety infiltrates peace. His way far surpasses any counterfeit found in pursuit of security and significance.
Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matt. 11:29-30
Jesus was contrasting the oppressive burdens of the Pharisees and His unforced rhythms of grace. There is no comparison, because His heart is gentle and lowly, and His way is easy and light.
What kind of King has a gentle, lowly heart? A servant King! And a conquering One! He did all the work, so we need not strive, but rest.
Now, when anxiety rises, I preach His truth to my soul. I remind myself of who He is, and who He says I am. Some days are better than others. I can allow my circumstances too much power, hijacking my heart and mind. If left unchecked, my soul quickly follows.
Let’s look again at the questions for the Anxious Soul.
- Does stress accompany most decisions?
- Are you a people pleaser?
- Is worry your MO?
- Do you regularly desire escape—numbing out with Netflix, alcohol or scrolling?
- Do you struggle with difficulty sleeping?
- Does time on social media cause scrolling-envy?
- Does comparison rob you of connection?
- Are your emotions all over the map?
- Is prayer often your last resort?
Are you, like me, combating an anxious soul 21st Century style from prolonged stress, hurry or control-seeking?
What one step can you take this week towards Jesus’ gentle and lowly heart beating for you?
Like the young ruler, He offers a better path. Choosing the light and easy way, we find true soul-rest!
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts… and lead me in your everlasting way. Psalm 139:2