Silhouette of Woman Praying

How Does an Anxious Soul Find Peace?

John Kimball, Lead Pastor of Palmwood Church and a Guest Contributor for the YMCA of Central Florida

Shalom. It’s a beautiful word. Most people know it means “peace.” But this wonderful Hebrew word means so much more. Shalom is much more than the absence of conflict, strife or war; it is real wholeness, completeness, fulfillment, health, safety, and peace.

In the creation account (Genesis Chapter 1), after each day’s creative work, the Lord God steps back and inspects his creation, seeing that it is good. But on the last day of his creative work—day 6, on which he made humanity as the crown of his creation in his image and likeness—the Lord God gave a different appraisal:

 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! (Genesis 1:31, NLT, emphasis added)

Very good. God, by his own standard, looked at all he had made with the inclusion of humanity and called it “very good.” There was nothing in God’s creation that was not very good. Everything was as it was designed to be. Every system worked. There was no conflict. Nothing was incomplete. There was no illness or injury. There was no inherent threat. All was at perfect peace. God’s proclamation of “very good” was a proclamation of shalom. And after humanity messed everything up (Genesis Chapter 3), it has been God’s intent to bring everything back to that same shalom state (see Revelation 21:1-5). But for now, we not only live in a very broken world that fosters anything but shalom, we also have an enemy who is intent on making sure he wreaks as much havoc (the opposite of shalom) as possible. There is brokenness. There is strife. There is illness and death. There is hopelessness. And there is clearly evil.

In my own case, I am broken. And we have a family history of this brokenness. It’s called anxiety, and anyone who has had it knows that even the smallest challenge can become literally overwhelming when it hits. For me, it’s a matter of brain chemistry and circumstances together. There are medications (for which I’m thankful), but I also have to take steps to address what the medication cannot. In all of this, I’m seeking shalom. And I have the promise of my Savior that he intends to make it real for me and everyone who comes to him…

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27, NLT)

Our nation’s current battle with COVID-19 has been particularly hard for me. Not only have I had to prayerfully manage my own anxiety triggers, but I have had to lovingly assist my parish with their collective feelings. But my own experience with anxiety has actually helped me to better understand what some, who are not used to feeling anxious, are encountering for the first time. And for those who do wrestle with worry or fear, I can give my own personal testimony of God’s incredible grace.

From the time of humanity’s rebellion in Genesis 3, God has been about the work of lovingly bringing us back under his perfect rule and reign so that there would once again be real shalom. I know that my God wants shalom for me—and he does for you too. Circumstances of our broken world compete against it. And the enemy of our souls purposefully plants seeds that counteract it. But God is the Almighty, and there is coming a time when perfect shalom will overwhelm everything under his kingdom dominion.

Here’s what I know, and I hope this his helpful for you too:

  1. Regardless of circumstances, God IS in control. I don’t always see it or understand it, but I have learned to trust it
  2. Through Jesus, God offers all of us shalom—authentic wholeness, completeness, fulfillment, health, safety, and
  3. There is great wisdom and comfort in seeking wise counsel when I cannot find shalom on my own. Even as a pastor, I unashamedly seek the help of a counselor when needed.
  4. I must choose to avoid things in this world that “peak” my anxiety: the news (especially national outlets), social media, talk radio, certain television shows and movies, and even certain people on occasion.
  5. I must make the Bible my constant companion, not because I’m a pastor, but because I’ve found the Scriptures to be a source of life and peace. They are my first experience in the morning, they are typically one of the last things my eyes view at night
  6. I must pray, a lot. Following Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1, I try to pray multi-faceted prayer: requests (pleas), prayers (conversations with God), intercession (praying on behalf of others), and thanksgiving (real praise and gratitude).
  7. I must trust. In the end, I choose to trust that my loving heavenly Father, the almighty God who has been working for my shalom since before I was born, has my back.

We’re in anxious times. And it’s normal to feel addled when faced with something like the national response to COVID-19. But this didn’t surprise our God. And in the end, it’s just another grand opportunity for me to learn more about his promised shalom.