I do a lot of my living inside my head: I’m a daydreamer with a big imagination.
This is both good and bad. It’s great when I’m trying to plan something, when I want to work on the next chapter of a novel, or when I want to visualize how a discussion, or a presentation, might go. But it’s a nightmare when I’m facing a problem, or a fear and my thoughts get out of control.
Most of us have struggled with this at one time or another. We chew on our worries and what-if thoughts like a dog chews on a bone, leaving them behind momentarily only to circle back and start all over again. We spend our nights staring at the ceiling and our days distracted by worries, unable to regain our focus or our peace of mind.
It is exhausting.
But Jesus offers us a spiritual discipline that is beneficial to those who struggle with fear and anxiety and that has simple, practical applications. I call it Christian present-mindedness, and here’s what it looks like in practice:
1. Recognize that you must live day to day on God’s provision.
In the Old Testament, God provided manna to the Israelites so that they would not starve. But the manna came with a provision: “The people are to go out that day and gather enough for that day” (Exodus 16:4, emphasis mine). Hoarding would cause the manna to go bad. Later, when Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, he calls back to that early manna-giving: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
As Christians, we must trust that God will provide grace, courage, and love sufficient for each day. Though much of our worry stems from our desire to control situations and their outcomes, God intends for us to recognize that he is in control, and will always provide what we need, right when we need it—not always before.
2. Remain in the present moment.
Part of living day-to-day means focusing on the now, rather than worrying about the future or fretting over the past. Jesus gives explicit instructions in this regard in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Our problems can seem insurmountable when we start worrying about the future. That’s why Jesus tells us to take a day-by-day approach. Think about what is happening right now. Train yourself not to think about what might happen a week, two weeks, or ten years down the line: think about what today requires of you and deal with only that. Remember, God will give you whatever you need to cope.
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Because I am a storyteller, one way that I remain in the now is to quietly narrate the present to myself, interspersed with Scriptural truths, whenever I feel my worries getting out of control. I pay close attention to my surroundings, I notice the details with my senses, and I think something like this: God, right now I am looking at what is around me and in front of me, and I am describing it to you. I’m not thinking of tomorrow, or of the day after that. Right now, you love me, and you are present with me. Right now, I am going to focus on what you have given me to do, and you will give me everything I require to do it.
This process will feel alien to you. We’d much rather worry about everything coming because that makes us feel like we have control over it and we can do something about it. But we’re depending on God, not ourselves—and so learning to live in the moment is vital.
3. Pay attention to your thoughts.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes that “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Our thinking controls us. Scientists have found that the more we use certain neural pathways, the more our brain becomes accustomed to them. So, if your tendency is to give in to anxiety and fear in times of conflict or stress and you do this frequently and consistently, you’re training your brain to default to an anxiety and fear-based response in times of conflict or stress!
As a believer, you have to make a practice of flagging those anxious thoughts and setting them aside. Is it a “what if” thought? Abandon it. Is it a thought with no real solution? Abandon it. Keep an eye out for the sort of worries you “chew” on—that you leave and revisit, leave and revisit. When you find those thoughts, acknowledge them for what they are and then set them aside. No dwelling! If you have to, say it out loud: “Lord, I present this anxious thought to you. Please take custody of it.” And—here’s the trick—do it over and over and repeatedly until it becomes second nature to you.
You see, if we can enter each day believing that God will grant us all we need, if we can constantly pull our meandering focus and our worries back from what-ifs to the present moment, and if we can notice our anxious thought and acknowledge them as distracting and untrue, we can fight back against a lot of the worry and the fears that plague us.
So, wherever you are, take a deep breath. What’s happening around you? What do you see? What do you know of God? Right now, you have enough to keep going. Right now, God has provided you everything that you require. What will happen a day from now, ten days from now—that doesn’t matter yet.