For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. —Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
So often this passage is taken out of context and we use it to reassure ourselves that wonderful circumstances are ahead for us. Read in context, we learn that the people of Israel were about to be taken into exile in Babylon and God was promising them that He would restore them. Read further:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. —Jeremiah 29:12-14 ESV
In tough times, times that make us anxious, God reminds us that He is with us, for us and has provided the Holy Spirit to help us battle against anxiety. Here is an analogy to help us fight against the unbelief of anxiety (from John Piper):
Suppose you are in a car race and your enemy who doesn’t want you to finish the race throws mud on your windshield. The fact that you temporarily lose sight of your goal and start to swerve does not mean that you are going to quit the race. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are on the wrong racetrack. Otherwise the enemy wouldn’t bother you at all. What it means is that you should turn on your windshield wipers and use your windshield washer.
What I mean is this: when anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked. At first blow our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether we set in motion a process of resistance. Whether we fight back against anxiety. Will we turn on the windshield wipers and will we use our windshield washer?
The Testimony of Scripture
Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in thee.” Notice: it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” Fear strikes and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike.
For example, 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” It does NOT say, you will never feel any anxieties to cast onto God. It says, when the mud splatters your windshield and you lose temporary sight of the road and start to swerve in anxiety, turn on your wipers and squirt your windshield washer.
To the One Who Struggles Daily with Anxiety
So my response to the person who has to deal with feelings of anxiety every day is to say: that’s more or less normal. The issue is how you deal with them.
And the answer to that is: you deal with anxieties by battling unbelief. And you battle unbelief by meditating on God’s Word and asking for the help of his Spirit. The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief. And the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit.
Without the softening work of the Holy Spirit the wipers of the Word just scrape over the blinding clumps of unbelief. Both are necessary—the Spirit and the Word. We read the promises of God and we pray for the help of his Spirit. And as the windshield clears so we can see the welfare that God plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), our belief grows strong and the swerving of anxiety smoothes out.