The bible provides many answers. Its sufficiency is fundamental to our Christian faith and anything else we read should be measured against what the Word of God says. In his newest book Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World, Max Lucado takes on the topic of anxiety in America. So now comes the question, does Lucado’s book measure up to the standard of conforming to God’s Word? No. I found three examples of bible twisting while reading the first chapter. Along with his misrepresentation of scripture, he gives advice to his readers that disturbed me to the point of wanting to throw the book in the fireplace. The only problem is I don’t have the actual book, and I don’t have a fireplace.
Lucado describes anxiety as “a meteor shower of what-ifs” (p.3) as well as providing many other analogies:
“Anxiety is trepidation. It’s a suspicion, an apprehension. Life in a minor key with major concerns. Perpetually on the pirate ship’s plank. You’re part Chicken Little and part Eeyore. The sky is falling, and it’s falling disproportionately on you.” (p.4)
He also states, “Anxiety takes our breath. . . It also takes our sleep. Our energy. Our well-being.” (p.5), which leads into the first scripture reference. Lucado refers to one of the Psalms in this way:
“’Do not fret,’ wrote the psalmist, ‘it only causes harm.’ (Ps. 37:8). Harm to our necks, jaws, backs, and bowels. Anxiety can twist us into emotional pretzels. It can make our eyes twitch, blood pressure rise, heads ache, and armpits sweat.” (p.5)
While that is one way to interpret the word “harm”, I’m pretty sure that when David wrote this Psalm, he was not talking about our backs or our bowels. In fact, most versions of the bible use the word “evil” or “evildoing”.
NIV: do not fret–it leads only to evil
ESV: Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil
NASB: Do not fret; it leads to evildoing.
The best way to understand scripture is to read the context and in order to do that, you need more than half of the verse. So, let’s back up a little:
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:7-9 ESV).
This passage is a reiteration of vs. 1 which says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers.” The key message in this Psalm is don’t be envious, for the same LORD that rewards righteousness also punishes wickedness (Ps.11:21). Now that we’ve read the verse in context, it doesn’t seem to fit with Lucado’s point that worrying leads to high blood pressure and constipation.
Moving along, Lucado makes a reference to Philippians 4:6, or about a quarter of the verse anyway. Here is how he presents this verse:
“’Be anxious for nothing’ (Phil. 4:6). ‘Be anxious for less’ would have been a sufficient challenge. . . [Paul] wrote the phrase in the present active tense, which implies an ongoing state. It’s the life of perpetual anxiety that Paul wanted to address. The Lucado Revised Translation reads, ‘Don’t let anything in life leave you perpetually breathless and in angst.’” (p. 8)
First of all, it worries me that his man has his own version of the Bible. Second, Paul was not presenting a challenge when he wrote this to the church of Philippi, nor was he referring to perpetual anxiety. In fact, if you read (like I’ve said before) the whole passage (sigh), you see a wonderful promise of inner peace received from God when we meditate on His word! Job reminds us that “Man is born into trouble” (Job 5:7 ESV). However, those who live in Christ can always rejoice in the Lord, even during the trials of life.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7 ESV)
The next verse that Lucado chops up is found in Luke. He begins by talking about how anxiety can lead to sinful behavior:
“If toxic anxiety leads you to abandon your spouse, neglect your kids, break covenants, or break hearts, take heed. Jesus gave this word: ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with . . . the anxieties of life’ (Luke 21:34 NIV)”. (p. 9)
At this point, Lucado is not making any sense in trying to relate this verse with sinful behavior. Jesus is giving a warning, but it isn’t that anxiety will cause us to sin against others. Again, let’s look at the whole verse:
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34 ESV)
“That day” is the key phrase here. It is referring to the day of Jesus’ return and is warning us to be ready. Matthew 24:42 says, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Like the ten virgins who took their lamps (Matt. 25:1-13) only the ones that were prepared went to the marriage feast. We are often told to always be equipped for the Lord’s return. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matt. 25:13 ESV). Christians do not have a complacent attitude toward their own sins, rather they eagerly anticipate the Lord’s return.
Nonetheless, Lucado uses Luke 21:34 to lead into a series of questions such as, “Are you laughing less than you once did? Do you assume that something bad is going to happen? Many days would you rather stay in bed than get up?” (p. 9)
Now I’m going to pause the book review for a second and tell you something about me. I once went to the doctor and told them I was feeling depressed. I took a little survey that sounds a lot like the one Lucado is providing. It had about five or six questions on it. The doctor then gave me a prescription for Prozac and sent me on my way. I don’t take it anymore and looking back I feel that I didn’t really need it then either. I believe it is so easy to get Prozac, Xanax, or whatever new drug is becoming popular right now, that it is scary. I also believe that no good pastor would encourage his flock to jump on the antidepressant band wagon.
Going back to the book, Lucado finally quotes a passage in its entirety, and that is Philippians 4:6-7. It is certainly a good passage to meditate on anytime we are feeling stressed or worried, especially as Christians who desire to rely on Jesus for alleviation of angst. But again, Lucado takes a very bad turn and this is why I told you that little story about myself:
“You will discover a life that is characterized by calm and will develop tools for facing the onslaughts of anxiety. It will require some work on your part. I certainly don’t mean to leave the impression that anxiety can be waved away with a simple pep talk. In fact, for some of you God’s healing will include the help of therapy and/or medication.” (p. 11)
Two problems here. Two very bothersome problems that I have with these statements. “It will require some work on your part.” I don’t remember anywhere in the bible that says, you can have God’s inner peace, but it will require some work on your part. Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice. . . again I will say, rejoice.” This does not sound like work, but an invitation to just enjoy God’s peace and trust in His sovereignty. The irony here is that the work incorporated by Lucado’s readers is only going to add to their anxieties, as they add to their ever-increasing arsenal of works righteousness.
The other problem I have is his mention of medication. It just baffles me that anyone, let alone a pastor, would write a bible based book about finding calm and then bring up medication in the first chapter. Now I’m not going to go as far as to say that nobody needs medication, I’m not a doctor (and neither is Max Lucado by the way), but there is already too much of a push to take a “magic pill” to make all our bad feelings go away.
An article written on August 17, 2017 states, “The number of Americans who say they’ve taken an antidepressant over the past month rose by 65% between 1999 and 2014.”[i] There are a few theories as to why, but the one I agree with the most comes from Dr. Seth Mandel, now the chairman of Huntington Hospital’s psychiatry department, “Direct-to-consumer advertising, coupled with an evolving societal mindset to just take a pill to make things better, both contributed to the growth in antidepressant use over this time period.”[ii]
God’s solution to anxiety is simple. Jesus did not come bearing magic pills. Rather, He said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus also did not say that it would require work, instead He merely extended the invitation to come to Him. That’s all we do, is surrender to Him. As sheep, we do not tend ourselves. Jesus is the Great Shepherd that tends His flock. Go to Him who gives “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). Stress comes in a fallen world but His promises are true. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is easy to see why people in this world would have anxieties, but Max Lucado does not help to alleviate this pain.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9)