Meeting Jesus is the starting point of all Christian spiritual growth. How then are we supposed to approach Jesus? Where in the varied situations of our life are we most likely to find Him? This is where reading the Gospels is so helpful, for the stories of how people got closer to Jesus in the Bible are meant as models for how we can approach Jesus today.
I did my own study of how people approached Jesus in the gospel of Mark to see the larger truth about anxiety in Scripture. I focused on the following groups of people who approached Jesus:
- people who approached Jesus (versus ones with whom Jesus took the initiative)
- people who approached Jesus in good faith (versus teachers of the law and Pharisees or other enemies)
- people who approached Jesus personally, either as individuals or small groups (versus “the crowds”)
In the gospel of Mark, by my count, there are twenty-nine approaches to Jesus that met those conditions. Out of these twenty-nine, fifteen were marked by strong textual evidence of anxiety: (1) found in words explicitly describing anxiety (such as the word fear); (2) in Jesus’ eventual response to the people in which He revealed what was really going on, such as when He says, “Peace...”; or (3) in actions strongly correlated with anxiety, such as a form of the verb implore, which conveys a state of emotional distress. These fifteen approaches to Jesus — more than half of the total — are clearly marked by anxiety.
Beyond these fifteen examples, an additional twelve approaches are marked by possible, if not definitive, evidence of anxiety. A good example is the story of the paralytic’s friends in Mark 2 who opened a hole in a roof in order to get to Jesus. There is no explicit description of their anxiety, and Jesus comments on their “faith.” But anxiety must have been present, since destroying someone’s roof to get attention isn’t the typical marker of people in a state of calm and peace!
- Classic anxiety behavior includes a narrowed thinking that disregards others, extreme behavior, adrenaline-driven physicality, and so forth.
Out of the twenty-nine total approaches, only two would be categorized as having no sign of anxiety. The first is the woman who, on the evening of Jesus’ arrest, poured out the alabaster jar of nard in Mark 14. Her approach shows no evidence of anxiety. Jesus, remarking on her unique approach, says,
Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. — Mark 14:9
She is an extreme outlier.
The second is Peter, who confidently declares, “I will never disown you” (Mark 14:31). Peter’s expression of complete self-confidence is highly ironic and short-lived. A few sections later, when the cock crows in Mark 14:72, Peter is in a state of extreme anxiety.
Let this overall picture sink in for a moment. To repeat, the majority — more than half — of approaches to Jesus are undertaken by clearly anxious people. It is plausible to claim that almost all — twenty-seven out of twenty-nine — show some evidence of anxiety.
The evidence shows that people approach Jesus through a wide variety of anxieties. Out of the twenty-seven “strong or possible” cases of anxious approaches to Jesus, there are:
- eight cases of health anxiety
- seven cases of spiritual anxiety (especially around evil spirits)
- six cases of status anxiety (where a person is nervous about their standing or reputation before others)
- four cases of physical safety anxiety
- two cases of provision anxiety
The inclusion of this wide range of types of anxiety is deliberate. Mark and the other gospel writers are giving readers like you and me a variety of ways to locate ourselves in the overall story of people approaching Jesus.
The message is clear: people approach Jesus through their anxiety.
Anxiety is not an obstacle and it is not irrelevant to getting closer to Jesus — it is the very entrance point for spiritual growth.
Think again about the life situations that fill you with uncertainty and nervousness. It turns out that Jesus works there! He goes to school there! And there He welcomes us with a hug and says, “Let Me show you around.”
Excerpted with permission from The Anxiety Opportunity by Curtis Chang, copyright Curtis Chang.
* * *
If you’re wondering where Jesus is in your stress, worry, and anxiety… He’s right there. Jesus never shied away from people who were freaking out worried and troubled. He stepped into that place and ministered to them and the same is true for you! Come straight to Him with your uncertainty and anxiety. He’s there! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full