By Michael Angelo, LPC

Here’s something that may surprise you. Then again, it may not if you know anything about Christians and their notorious inability to battle their worries and fears, concerns and sadness even though they have the power of Christ available to them through prayer and the Bible.

People of God are in bondage to their anxious and depressive thinking, their disappointment and sadness, their helplessness and, in some cases, the hopelessness they may feel about the events and circumstances that define their lives. Instead of living in victory, they choose to live in defeat—clinging to their faith but never getting better.

They search the scriptures fervently, pray intently, and tell themselves in the loudest inner voice they can muster that their troubles will go away if only they would trust the Lord more. Or, attempting to tough it out, they try to swat away the fear, telling themselves that good Christians don’t get anxious or depressed—and if they do, they don’t have enough conviction in their beliefs.

A few, sadly, resign themselves to their fate. I can’t change, they say. So why bother?

Why bother? Because it is a sin to stay as you are when you can transform the way you think through the renewing of your mind. When you do this, you change the way you feel about yourself, about others, and about the world. And changing the way you feel enables you to deal more productively with your problems and burdens and to take actions necessary to improve your life. It’s the smartest thing Christians can do for their anxiety and depression.

Don’t get me wrong. Change starts by reading the Bible, but also by knowing that the scriptures alone are not enough. You must also know how to apply God’s word to the people, places, and things that make you afraid or bring you down.

Forget about praying, too, if that’s all you are going to do. What good is prayer if there is no application of your good intent? God wants us to have the courage to change our way of living, but we must know how to do it in a real and pragmatic way.

The Church has been woefully ignorant in this regard, emphasizing that God’s word alone is the cure-all for what ails us. It isn’t.

Before you stop reading, though, consider this: God wants to teach us how to transform our thinking as our ultimate act of spiritual worship. It begins with a proper understanding of Romans 12:1-2 and techniques found in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

The scripture passage urges us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but rather to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This is the true and proper way to honor God, and know what his will is for our lives.

CBT asks something very similar of us, assuming that most of us possess sufficient common sense to deal with life’s crises and challenges—but all too often that common sense deserts us when we most need it. Our so-called better judgment is swamped by a tidal wave of emotions—be it love or excitement or anger or unhappiness or fear or whatever. Emotion takes control and the brain takes a sabbatical. We rationalize rather than logically analyze. This happens so often to so many people that expressions like “blinded by love,” “intoxicated by happiness,” “paralyzed by anxiety,” and “scared out of one’s wits” are clichés of our language.

To avoid making these common thinking mistakes we need a set of smart thinking tools that enable us to push back on that emotion and return our common sense. CBT provides just such tools. The techniques described rely heavily on a theoretical model developed by Dr. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, who is recognized as one of the foremost psychiatric theoreticians in the world today.

Long before Beck was on the scene, though, the apostle Paul, inspired through the Holy Spirit, wrote the New Testament book of Romans. This included chapter 12, verses 1 and 2, which tell us that we could know God’s will for any situation or circumstance, concern or choice if only we would be willing to change the way we think. In essence, we could choose the godly option every time by defeating our negative thoughts instead of letting our faulty thinking control us.

Using the amazingly powerful reasoning abilities of the human brain, we need not fear anything, including ourselves! But we have to do the hard work of reframing our thoughts, renewing our mind.

How do we call on Paul and Beck to change our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, finding peace? Let’s take the example of a mother who, when the children fail to come home on time or text, races through a series of negative thoughts to a conclusion that the kids have been either kidnapped or murdered, or they have been killed in a fiery car crash. As she feels the tide of panic sweep over her, she must stop and question her thoughts...

Do I know for sure that the catastrophe I fear has actually happened?

Since I have not gotten a ransom note or a phone call from the police, the answer is no.

But what if they’ve been in a horrible accident and are lying dead, their mangled bodies strewn across the road?

Again, I haven’t heard from the police, and if anything like that had happened, the police would have called. Besides, I need to trust the Lord that everything is ok. I need to hold tightly to him, asking for his help to think straight.

Many, many times when you believe, in one form or the other that the worst has occurred, and you ask yourself these key questions, you will similarly find the answer is no. That is, what you believe may be true, but you do not have conclusive evidence of it, so you can continue to worry when it’s not necessary or you can challenge your thoughts, trusting God to help you do exactly that!

Have the children ever failed to come home on time in the past? And if so, was that because they had been murdered or kidnapped, or had been in an accident?

Yes, they have been late before. And it was not because they were victims of a crime, or in a crash.

What about this time, though? Something bad could have happened.

If your conclusion has not happened in the past, why assume the situation is different this time? If they have never been late before, go on to the next question:

Are there any other possible explanations for the children not being home now?

The car has had a flat tire and the kids are fixing it themselves.

The kids are sitting in a restaurant talking to other kids, having a great time, not noticing the lateness of the hour.

The kids have disobeyed my order to come home right after the game and have succumbed to the temptation to go out with the other kids for a snack. They are disobedient but not dead.

You might point out that this mother doesn’t have conclusive proof that any of those explanations are true either. Can she be sure? No. But since she does not know which, if any, of the explanations is so, why believe—and get hysterical about—the worst one?

Why choose to live in anxiety when Jesus tells not to be anxious? Instead, we are supposed to trust the evidence we’ve considered, with our emotions under control. This is how to use the Bible in a real and holy way!

Imagine feeling less depressed and anxious using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Bible Therapy to combat our thinking mistakes. Consider what life could be like if emotions didn’t keep us in the mindset of “can’t,” as in “I can’t do that,” “It’s not possible to get rid of that,” “There’s no way that can happen,” “I’m too old to change,” or even, “I want to change but I don’t know how.”

The worst doesn’t have to happen if we learn to recognize our thought patterns, minimize our vulnerability factors, and do the hard work of behavioral change. One of the most critical areas to address is the Chicken Little Syndrome. Read more about it next month.